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THEUNE: The cure for 'Whatifs' can be found in developing relationships

• Sep 11, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Shel Silverstein wrote a poem titled “Whatif” where he captures the voice of a young person lying in bed when “prancing” and “partying” Whatifs crawl inside his ear. Those Whatifs create anxiety-producing questions: some quite serious (Whatif I get beat up? Whatif my parents get divorced?), some seemingly not at all (Whatif green hair grows on my chest? Whatif my head starts getting smaller?).

But the purpose of the poem is clear — there is a lot of concern rattling around the brains of our young people.

Ah, who are we kidding? There’s a lot of concern rattling around the brains of, well, people.

Last April, I learned that I am the fortunate recipient of a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, and this Department of State award would allow my family and myself to travel to the Netherlands, where I would conduct a research project through Utrecht University.

For me — an adult — the Whatifs kicked in right away:

• Whatif the school isn’t OK with this?

• Whatif my family hates this idea?

• Whatif I can’t adapt?

Throughout the summer — a summer filled with an orientation in Washington, D.C., with the other 30-plus recipients; a summer filled with apartment hunting in a place we’ve never been; a summer filled with trying to find a temporary home for our pets — the Whatifs haven’t gone away. As a matter of fact, they’ve multiplied.

• Whatif my educational ideas don’t belong in this room of exceptional educators?

• Whatif the pictures of apartments are better than the apartment itself?

• Whatif we can’t find a good home for our dogs?

So, I’ve learned this: These Whatifs are real and they don’t go away once one becomes an adult. They don’t just stop when it becomes clear my parents aren’t getting a divorce. They don’t just stop when I realize no green hair is growing on my chest.

But I’ve also learned this: I start to defeat these Whatifs through people.

By meeting with and talking to my district, I have been affirmed throughout the process. While my family members have their own Whatifs, we continue the conversations and grow more comfortable. On walks with my wife, she reminds me that I have made it a habit to adapt to new ideas and that this will be no different. Through conversations with other Fulbrighters, I learned that many of them had similar concerns of belonging. While we haven’t rented our apartment yet or found homes for our pets, we have reached out to Realtors in the Netherlands and to friends here in West Michigan.

My point is — there is a cure for these Whatifs. It’s in relationships. It’s in the people at work, it’s in your family, it’s in complete strangers. We just have to admit that we have concerns and start the process of connection.

Besides, who says all these Whatifs have to be ill-tempered? Can’t their song and dance, their prancing and partying be of a different tune? I mean:

• Whatif this develops a life-long love of travel for my children?

• Whatif this provides the school district with international connection?

• Whatif, when we’re in the Netherlands for six months, we make memories to last a lifetime?

About the writer: David Theune, a 15-year veteran English educator at Spring Lake High School, is our newest community columnist. Theune will be spending his Fulbright time in Utrecht, Netherlands, at Utrecht University from January to June 2019. ​He is an accredited teaching consultant through the Lake Michigan Writing Project and ​has been recognized by the National Council of Teachers of English as a 2016 Teacher of Excellence. Additionally, he has taken a keen interest in his school’s new adoption of International Baccalaureate. Recently, he developed a community book club, published a book and created a podcast titled “The Share Chair Podcast.” More than anything, Theune finds value in traveling, literacy and laughing — all of which he prefers to do with his three energetic daughters and his loving wife, Nikki.

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