For most people, the first night before a child heads off to middle school is exciting — and terrifying. Because hey, let's be honest, middle schoolers can be a super scary bunch. While students will be learning more, making new friends, and broadening their horizons, they'll also be up against peer pressure, comparison, and what can seem like the ruthless mob mentality of other pre-teens. It's hard to prepare a kid for that, which is why this one mom's viral post about toothpaste is a great reminder to focus on what's important.
Amy Beth Gardner, from Cleveland, has two young girls. Her eldest, Breonna, began middle school this week, and Gardner wanted to make sure she started Breonna off on the right foot. Gardner and her husband worked on locker decorations, picked up new uniforms, and surprised their daughter with a new backpack. But on Sunday evening, the night before Breonna went off to her first day at middle school, Gardner completed one final task that was "far more important" than the others.
"I gave her a tube of toothpaste and asked her to squirt it out onto a plate," Gardner wrote, in a post shared on Facebook. "When she finished, I calmly asked her to put all the toothpaste back in the tube. She began exclaiming things like 'But I can't!' and 'It won't be like it was before!'"
Gardner told Breonna:
As you go into middle school, you are about to see just how much weight your words carry. You are going to have the opportunity to use your words to hurt, demean, slander and wound others. You are also going to have the opportunity to use your words to heal, encourage, inspire and love others. You will occasionally make the wrong choice; I can think of three times this week I have used my own words carelessly and caused harm. Just like this toothpaste, once the words leave your mouth, you can't take them back. Use your words carefully, Breonna.
Instead of focusing on the world at large or on how Breonna herself might be affected by others' words, Gardner gave her daughter agency and the power to control the only thing she can: herself. "When others are misusing their words, guard your words," Gardner said. "Be known for your gentleness and compassion. Use your life to give life to a world that so desperately needs it. You will never, ever regret choosing kindness."
I have a feeling Gardner's words will stick with Breonna far beyond middle school, and her lesson is one that most people, whether in middle school or middle age, can probably stand to hear again. There's not much we can control out there, but we can always decide how we act towards others. It's hard to go wrong with kindness.