Sunday, February 23, 2014

Know The Gnome, Master the Meeting Monster

My immediate family has heard this fable/just-so story/explanation from me for a very long time, and at the risk of making myself sound slightly weird, I'll share it with you here. 

In one of the original parts to the fairy tale "The Snow Queen" (which was the foundation for the recent Disney movie Frozen), a troll or devil (which I always call The Gnome) created a horrible, evil mirror that he and his minions were trying to take to heaven. It slipped and broke and some of the tiny shards fell back to earth. Some shards entered people's eyes, making them see only the bad things in life. Some shards entered people's hearts, making them hard and cold. You can read versions of this part of the story here and here or here

The story of The Gnome is a perfect explanation for times when I am cross or angry or grumpy for no obvious reason at all. When my husband is nothing but kind and considerate, yet everything he does for me irritates me - I know I'm being irrational, and the only way I can explain my foul temperament is to blame The Gnome. It's a way for me to articulate my feelings in a way that attempts to make sense of them. Blaming The Gnome sounds a lot better than "I am irritable for no reason that I can ascertain at this time." (Believe it or not, this odd excuse works quite well. If I tell my family members that "I think The Gnome is near", they know to keep out of my way, because nothing they can do or say at that time will improve my mood until The Gnome leaves.) 

The extra significance to The Gnome is that when I was very young, I used to walk around with a plastic gnome on a wooden stand; while carrying it around, I fell and the wooden stand broke my nose. I'm not sure why my parents let a one-year-old carry this thing around. If asked, they'd probably state that I just loved the old bearded guy. They brought it up with them when the emigrated to Canada and they still have it at their house. Take a look at the photo below. I'm in the white dress and if you look closely, you might see that I have bruises from where the gnome smacked me in the face.

There's The Gnome, on the table, laughing at my black eyes.

I was definitely crabby this week, but it wasn't just because of The Gnome. Maybe The Gnome has a cousin, called the Meeting Monster. I had seven meetings / workshops scheduled for this past week, and remember that, because of Family Day, it was a shortened week. Two were postponed but it still meant a lot of meetings. I know that meetings and workshops have value, I really do. Unlike the Gnome, however, I can identify specific aspects of the Meeting Monster that aggravate me.
  • meetings that last for a LONG time
  • meetings where nothing seems to be accomplished
  • meetings that take my free/spare time and I'd rather be doing something else
  • meetings where people go off on tangents unrelated to the meeting topic
  • meetings that consist of a lot of sitting and listening
  • meetings where I learn nothing new
Not all of my meetings this week had all these characteristics, but combine them with extra duties (I was the Principal Designate, or PoR, twice this past week) and fatigue, and that equals one grumpy teacher-librarian.

So, how do I know The Gnome or master the Meeting Monster? Well, this week, I read a book called Moment to Moment: A positive approach to managing classroom behavior by Joey Mandel, and it provides games for children to play so that they can actively develop physical, language, social, emotional, and cognitive skills to help them manage in classroom settings appropriately. Maybe I needed some work when I was younger on Intentional Verbal Communication (page 71) or Internalizing Emotions (page 109) so that I didn't have to use an external explanation for my feelings. Now that I'm nearly 42, it may be tough to say goodbye to The Gnome, but I can definitely examine causes for The Gnome's appearance. (Don't worry - he doesn't come often.) As for the meetings, it's much easier to make changes when you are leading the meeting than when you are just a participant. Maybe saying no to attending some meetings, stretching or walking during long meetings to keep alert, gently redirecting conversation, and maintaining empathy with the meeting leaders (because no one intentionally tries to make a meeting boring) can help me tame that creature. Let me know if there are other ways to turn a dull meeting around or shake a bad mood when it grabs you.

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