Take Your Monkey to Work Day

Never take your monkey to a lock-down drill. Trust me, it’s not a good idea. Unless you’re going for dramatic effect.  Then it’s a great idea. Because those monkeys, they sure love drama.

Today I was teaching the kids in Newark a lesson about breath control. They were learning about how controlling their breath can help them with the NJASK, the annual standardized test that is coming up in May. We were working on slow steady breaths to keep calm under pressure, lion’s breath to relax and refocus, and fire breathing to wake up and get energized when boredom or exhaustion starts to set in.

Between classes I was walking through the hall when I heard the loudspeaker. Click. “Code Blue,” a voice said, “Code. Blue.” I’ve been through this before in another school, so I knew that it meant it was time for a lock-down.

Drill or not? I wasn’t sure yet.

I walked to the closest classroom, and as the teacher was making her way to the door to lock it, she saw me, and said “Quick, come in here with us.”

I made my way back to the corner of the room where the kids were already sitting in a huddle, some behind chairs, two under desks. Just as I sat down on the floor, the teacher looked at me and mouthed, “It’s a drill”.

Whew. Thank you for telling me. I was just about to be nervous. Good thing it’s just a drill. I can relax now.

And that’s when the monkey showed up. But what if it weren’t? What if it were a real situation? What then?

Nope. Not gonna do this. You have to be quiet right now.

Come on, you know these things really happen. Especially around here. You watch the news.

I said be quiet. You are not allowed in here.

Remember last time? It was right after Sandy Hook? I was there. Remember how scared you were? Thinking about those kids, and those teachers? How our children have to live in fear? Oh, now you’re doing it again, aren’t you? Thinking about them? Be careful. You don’t want to cry.

Did I tell you to shut up? I am working here.

Two boys in the corner got the giggles. Directly across from me was a girl with a big round face and a head full of braids and beads. Obviously worried, she tapped one of the boys on the shoulder and gave them both a very stern look.

Oh, she looks scared. Look how scared she is. You know these are not suburban kids. They know way more about violence than your kids 8 miles up the Parkway. She is scared. I know she is. I know what’s going through her head. I have a cousin who lives in there.

Obviously, you’re not going to listen to me, so I have to take drastic measures.

What are you gonna do?

I brought my hands together at my heart and took a deep breath in.

Oh, not the breathing!

Looking to the children’s faces I exhaled loudly though my nose, and inhaled deeply. Exaggerating the movements of my body, lifting up and rounding down as I breathed in and out. Rising and falling, breathing deeply. Some of the kids began to copy me. Moving up and down, and breathing deeply. “Yoga” I mouthed to them, as they smiled and inhaled.

You really think this is gonna work?

I just spent an hour telling kids that they can deal with stressful situations by controlling their breath. Telling them that even though they may not be able to control their situations, their environment, they can get a handle on their breath. They can send a signal to their brains that everything is all right. They can get present, get focused, if they can grab on to their breath, the one thing that they can control, and control it.

Yes. This is going to work. Slow, deep breaths. All I can hear is my breathing, and the breath of the little ones around me. I am here, present. I am breathing. I am here, right now, just sitting here. There is no need to think of other things. No need to bring up the past. No need to worry about the future. No what-ifs.  Just sitting. Just breathing.

Psst. Hey! Listen.
That is not me, this is my monkey. Inhale.
Psst. Hey.
I can’t hear you. Exhale.
Nothing but the breath…

Click. “All clear” the voice on the loudspeaker repeated, “All. Clear.”

It was just a drill.  On the outside it appeared as a bunch of us sitting on the floor for ten minutes, smiling, breathing, giggling.  It was nowhere near as dramatic as the monkey makes it seem.  There was nothing at all for me to be worried about.  There was nothing to be afraid of.  Nothing to be angry about, outraged about, sad about.

It was just a routine drill. A drill our kids all do once a month.

Our kids, and their monkeys.




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