Newspaper article - September 2019
Dragonflies. They have always fascinated me. When I was a little kid, they were on the list of critters to catch. I have a great story about fireflies in my dad’s car; but we will save that for another day, back to the dragonflies.
They are simultaneously strong and delicate like our middle school kids.
There are many species of dragonflies, and they all have differences in their life cycles. In general, they start off as an egg and then they hatch into a larval stage; we often call these little critters, nymphs. These nymphs are incredible predators and consume things that you would never think they could choke down. Like our middle schoolers, they do so much; and we are amazed at the level of complexity they can handle and how quickly they pick up on things.
Physically, the nymphs molt their skin multiple times. Some do this ten or more times during their lives in the stream, river, or pond. Some species spend up to four years as nymphs. Each change is incremental and the new version looks pretty much like the old version, just bigger. Our middle schoolers are like that. They look pretty much the same at the end of fifth grade as they do at the beginning of sixth grade. They get a little awkward as they try out the new shell.
Then it happens. Some unknown force prompts the nymph to crawl out of the only home it has ever known and turn into something way different than it was before; but yet, there is a hint of familiarity. The back splits open and the dragonfly painstakingly extracts itself from the shell of what it was and becomes what it will be. At this very moment of triumph, it is extremely vulnerable. If you were to see it struggle and gave in to your urge to help, you would doom the dragonfly, as the wing that was assisted may never heal from the touch. The struggle they endure and timing is important. The time of day of the emergence allows the sun and air to harden the new exoskeleton to what it needs to be.
The analogy is clear in my mind. We need to help “our dragonflies” consume all the knowledge they can. We must provide a safe environment while they molt their nymph skins and change incrementally over time. Sometimes it is important for us to show our kids that we are fluent in silence and just sit patiently as they undergo the changes dictated by their DNA. At long last, when they are ready to come out of the water and find that place to make the transformation, we must be still. The learning and growing they have done will help them emerge. The person they are is already inside of them.
As parents, teachers, friends and fellow travelers in life, we need to support them in the struggle and fight the urge to do it for them. If we do too much, they will not do enough. If we do too little, they may not make it. Our “wing touch moments” are the looks, the tone of voice, the measure of approval or disapproval that we give them. It is how we give feedback. It is in how we allow them the chance to fail, fail again, pick themselves up, and try one more time. We need to add “yet” to the end of our comments. I can’t do that, yet. I don’t know how, yet. I am not done, yet.
Our kids are delicate like the new wings of the dragonfly. Our kids are as malleable as the body of the nymph, metamorphosing into the dragonfly; and we are spectators, right there in the front row. My advice is to enjoy the moments, enjoy who they are now, and be open to who they will become.
Thanks to Pat Collins and Kellee Peterson for their assistance on this article.
We are all in this together,