Share Your Stories! Contribute to Holly Elissa Bruno’s Next Book: Post 1

Welcome to Share Your Stories, a new collaborative book project in which you’re invited to partake! Share Your Stories presents an exciting opportunity for you to let your experiences be heard and contribute to an upcoming Redleaf Press book. Watch a special message from the book’s author, Holly Elissa Bruno.

Holly Elissa Bruno, MA, JD—an author, international keynote speaker, attorney, and radio host—is working on an interactive book on second chances. She’s looking for your input, your thoughts, and your stories.

After reading what Holly Elissa has written below, we encourage you to respond to the questions presented. Then, please keep checking back for more from Holly Elissa. This is an ongoing project, so we’ll alert you to new posts via Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up to receive notifications of new posts by entering your email address under the “Follow Along” heading in the right-hand column of this screen. We invite you to share as often and openly as you want. Your comments will provide Holly Elissa with unique insight as she writes the book, and she looks forward to continuing the conversation after the book is published.

Read on for Holly Elissa’s first post.

Second chances wait like ripe peaches on a nearby tree, offering their sweetness to us for free

In Little Ways

When you sneeze, does a person nearby—someone you might not even know—bestow a “bless you!” on your nose-wiping self?

When someone blesses my sneezing self, I smile a thank you in his direction. I am grateful to any person who can lift an unnoticed or embarrassing moment into a smiling interaction. I get the sense that the person who has blessed me has blessed herself as well.

But, when we trip up, physically or metaphorically, do we say, “Bless me”?

One of my sweetest and closest friends, who unconditionally adores his grandchildren, curses himself nonverbally in their presence when he spills or breaks something. The lesson his grandchildren pick up non-verbally about self-acceptance in those tiny moments is the opposite of what he intends.

In little ways we barely notice, we bestow blessings (or their opposite) in any moment. Our spirit, touched by that gesture, glows or recoils in response. Instead of a blessing, I so often hear “How stupid!” or “Oh man, how clumsy can I get?”

Second chances wait like ripe peaches on a nearby tree, offering their sweetness to us for free. I snap off a peach every time I roll back my shoulders, breathe deeply and say, “Good for me.” The taste is sweet.

This has not always been the case.

When I had bent-over shoulders, a harsh voice scolded, “Sit up straight! Stop slouching.” I chided myself for failing the “good posture” standard. I was raised in a house where imperfections, in house cleaning, school grades, or posture, were unacceptable. My mother raised me the way her mother had raised her: blessings had to be earned.

In so many little ways, aren’t we far gentler with others than we are with ourselves? So, when I give myself a second chance to bless rather than demean my spirit, I savor the sweetness. I roll my shoulders back and breathe.

  • Can you tell me how you have given yourself a second chance in little ways?
  • Or, could you give yourself a second chance in this moment, rather than turn away from the peach?

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem highlighting the blossoming peach, which I memorized as a teenager, serves me well today.

Thank you so much for reading. If you’re feeling inspired, please do share your stories here. I’m looking forward to hearing from you and, perhaps, including your contribution in my book!

BY LEAVING A COMMENT, I hereby give my permission to Redleaf Press to use my story and quote me (all names will be changed) in Holly Elissa Bruno’s upcoming book on second chances, including in all revised editions of the book, in all formats (including print and electronic) now known or developed in the future, in all languages and territories, and in any other subsidiary editions of the book, and in promotional materials published by Redleaf Press, as it sees fit.

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12 Responses to Share Your Stories! Contribute to Holly Elissa Bruno’s Next Book: Post 1

  1. My anti-bias work has been all about second chances. When I understand how or why I acquired biases, I am able to form a different worldview, and learn how to walk a-ways in another person’s shoes. I develop compassion. For the first nineteen years of my life I grew up in racist Rhodesia. When I was in my late teens, a few seemingly insignificant incidents changed my perceptions forever. Even now in my sixties I vividly remember the feelings of those moments some forty years ago.

    1. I met Bill Stafford, an American Peace Corps teacher, on a train traveling from Johannesburg to Bulawayo. One day he and I gave a ride to a young black African woman. As Bill opened the front door of the car for her, I experienced surprise and shame at the same time. For, I became aware that I had learned all black African people were expected to sit at the back of the car. Bill¹s behavior showed me that it was respectful to offer a guest the front seat of the car no matter the color of her skin.

    2. In my home, as in many of my friends’ homes, black African servants ate their meals separately from the white African owners of the house, who sat at a dining room table waited on by our servants. Later, our nanny, housekeeper, cook, and gardener sat on the floor of the back veranda to eat a porridge-like corn meal known as “sadza.” As a child I often preferred to join the servants’ mealtime, and felt welcomed and safe to sit with them cross-legged on the floor, sharing food out of the bowls, dipping the “sadza” into the meaty gravy, and then washing our hands in a large, communal, enamel dish that they passed around to one another. In my family home or when visiting friends I had never shared the same table with black and white Africans together. One evening I was invited to dinner with my friends Nan and Mac Partridge. Dinner with the Partridges for me was a unique experience. For, when it came time to prepare dinner I went with Nan into the kitchen where she prepared the food together with Thiwe, the maid. I was invited to help. When the meal was ready, we all sat together at the table, Nan, Mac, Thiwe and me! The idea of everyone sharing the same table together was amazing to me. I became aware that I could live my life differently than I had been taught.

    3. Finally, I remember a Jef Wouters¹ poster of a brown-skinned Madonna and child in Nan and Mac’s home. I was blown away! By the time I was seventeen I had only ever seen the Madonna and child portrayed as white with European features. My perception had been completely shaped by the images I had seen throughout my childhood.

    Sometimes the smallest incidents can shock us into a deeper understanding if we allow ourselves to be open to them without fear. Those small behaviors created the prejudices I learned as a young child. Changing those seemingly small actions challenged me, and gave me second chances over and over again to see the world differently, and change my behaviors.

    [These experiences are adapted from my book, “Confronting Our Discomfort: Clearing the Way for Anti-Bias in Early Childhood,” published by Heinemann, 2003]

  2. Dear Tamar.

    How remarkable that these 2nd chance experiences happened in our lifetime!

    And yet, today brings its own opportunities for offering and receiving 2nd chances.

    Has anything of late inspired you in the same way?

    Be kind to you and thank you for sharing these compelling experiences that changed your life,

    Holly Elissa

  3. My second chance came after my mentally abusive marriage of 10 years ended. You see years earlier my son who is 12, was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. It would soon prove to be more of a challenge than my ex-husband had planned on because he left. Of course I went straight into research mode and didn’t take the time to grieve the son child I imagined I would be raising.

    Soon after I decided to return to school. I had been teaching preschool aged children within our school district for many years and decided I would study for my Masters in Special Education. I thought why not make myself more marketable after being a “work-at-home” mom for several years while learning the inner working of special education to help me become a better.advocate for my son.

    In July of this year I will complete my second masters degree in Teacher Leadership. I said all of that to say this…it is NEVER to late to start over. Life experiences gives us opportunities for second chances everyday. We only need to be ready and willing to follow through. I believe that the second changes given to me has also given my children a second chance as well.

  4. My story about second chances is a humbling one. I started my ECE career with an amazing mentor in the family child care realm. She was thoughtful, intentional, and radiated a deep respect for children. Caring about what children said, listening deeply and responding in full-hearted ways was the norm. During our time together, she supported me in gentle steps, with intentional nudges towards ‘upping my game’ and developing my understanding of children.
    Several years later, when I was the director of a small program started by my mentor, I was struggling with some of the supervisory issues new directors face. I was frustrated with an employee as I didn’t see her interacting with children the way I wanted and had been taught and I felt her unpredictable attendance was an issue. I was discussing this issue with my mentor and grandly laid out the ‘speech’ I was ready to give about reliability and what children deserve. My mentor listened quietly. I was proud of myself for being a ‘strong leader’ and crafting such direct feedback. My mentor looked at me and simply asked: “Do you think you would still be in child care if someone had said that to you when you first started?”
    Clearly that was NOT the response I was expecting. I sat stunned for a moment and then abashed. How wise she was. She had cut through the bravado of false leadership and nudged me yet again into the kind of deep, human interactions she had modeled all along. Needless to say, there was no speech delivered.
    My mentor’s question has never left me. I use it to guide my interactions often, especially with teachers new to early education. Holding that grace and compassion in all my interactions has given me a second chance at defining what leadership looks like in action.

    • Dear Kelly,

      Oh my, have I been in your shoes! And still can be, thinking I have the answer for another person.

      Can’t tell you how many times I have silently said the Serenity Prayer, reminding myself to have the courage to change myself, and to let go of trying to control others.

      Truth is, being new to leadership, is a bear! Stumble, get up. Trip, pick yourself up. All this is in service to learning how to be the best we can be. I am so glad for you that you have this wise and gentle mentor.

      Seems to me that wisdom is almost always paired with gentleness. Second chances often come in whispers: “You’re learning. You’re OK. Be kind to yourself. Breathe, apologize, forgive yourself and move on.”

      If we don’t listen to those whispers, we can stay stuck. Stuck-ness is no fun.

      What you mention at the end is so powerful: “Hold that grace and compassion in all my interactions”. You are a bestow-er of 2nd chances. What a brilliant leadership competency.

      Thank you for being who you are,

      Holly Elissa

  5. Dear Lisa,

    Your story touches my heart. My son, too, is “otherwise able” (my preferred term for severely disabled) and I too got divorced.

    I read that 70% of us with special needs children get divorced (or split permanently from partners). How could any of this pain be a blessing?

    I remember one night as a single mom slumping down onto the kitchen floor in our apartment, crying. I didn’t think I could handle another minute (fortunately, my meltdown came just after my son had gone to bed).

    Like you, I got up the next morning and began anew. And look at you! You earned your Masters in Special Education and then another Masters in Teacher Leadership! You are a marvel, Lisa.

    Feels to me that all of these wounds can lead us to great healing. For that to happen, however, we need to be open to taking the steps that lead to a 2nd chance.

    Once we take those steps and say “yes!” to our 2nd chances, we can pay it forward for others.

    You are doing that and I thank you,

    Holly Elissa

  6. Tammy says:

    Dear Holly,
    My career in Early Childhood Education has been a second chance for me. I studied to be an Elementary Teacher, but discovered after 3 years of teaching, that I was not well-suited to the profession. The challenges of managing so many children in one classroom and keeping them on task proved too much for me. I moved from first grade to third grade, where the classroom management was easier, but I missed the hands-on interaction with the children. I “retired” when my daughter was born, not desiring to return to the teaching profession.
    After living for 7 years in Chile, and having two more children, I found myself back in the United States attending a bilingual parent-child play group. The teacher, knowing that I had a credential, asked me if I would be willing to substitute for her. That was the beginning of my “second chance.”
    I ended up teaching several of these play groups. Some of the parents who attended asked me about bilingual preschools. I shared with them my personal story of not finding one for my daughter, and they asked if we could start one. (Their children were one and two years of age.) I responded that I would love to help them start one, but I did not want to be the teacher because I didn’t want to deal with classroom management. When the Parenting Department Chair heard that reason, she suggested that I take the ECE Positive Discipline class at the Community College. So began the studies that led to my second Associates Degree, this one in ECE.
    Two years later, those parents and I started a parent cooperative bilingual preschool. Teaching has become a joy for me, thanks to the ECE training that I received at the community college, all that I have learned from the children and the parents, and all of the help from the parents who volunteer in the school each day. As I learned about developmentally-appropriate and play-based curriculum, I realized that my challenges teaching first grade had a lot to do with the way that school was set-up for them. Our preschool is now celebrating its 10th Anniversary. I am so blessed to have played a role in making a dream come true.
    Teacher Tammy

  7. Pingback: Second chances wait like ripe peaches on a nearby tree, offering their sweetness to us for free | Holly Elissa Bruno

  8. Beverlyn Cain says:

    Although I was not aware at the time, I believe that my second chance began after my divorce. I was badly hurt from that divorce and I was not sure what the rest of my life would be like.

    I had a Bachelor’s degree and believed that a degree was all that I needed. Following the divorce, my baby daughter and myself returned to Massachusetts. I lived with my parents while finding and securing a teaching job. That process took me to Amherst, Mass. I began working in the University Of Massachusetts child care system as a teacher, then a supervising teacher. of young children. In this academic setting, children from all parts of the world attended the UMass child care system.

    This teaching experience allowed me to take on the challenge of creating culturally relevant environments for young children, to learn about families from other countries and their child rearing practices, and to become an advocate for the need for culturally relevant teaching practices.

    The second chance was formulating because others suggested that I work on a Master’s Degree. I earned the Master’s degree . Then one of the faculty asked me when I would begin a doctoral program. I would smile and say I would think about it. This went on for a year or two.I would run into the person , in the grocery store or on campus, he would casually suggest that I apply to the doctoral program. Finally, I did and earned the doctoral degree.

    This was the highlight of my second chance as all of these steps allowed me to rethink my role as a classroom teacher. I felt the need to train preservice and inservice teachers to meet the need for culturally relevant teaching practices. Today’s children are culturally diverse. The teachers need a strong knowledge base in social justice skill building and cultural competence in order to meet children’s needs. I departed from UMass Child Care and was offered a job in higher education.

    I continue to be involved in my second chance as it continues to deepen as I gain more knowledge. As a higher education faculty member, I have been instructing undergraduates in early childhood education. I am glad I allowed my self to rethink my life pathway.

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