By Guest Blogger Kelly Nichols, a local elementary teacher
What words of comfort, wisdom, or reflection can I offer to mothers? I have no idea how it feels to carry a child, to comfort one in illness, to celebrate small steps, to hold hopes and dreams, to endure as your child suffers, to be the rock in the storm, or to know a life relies on your body. I have no clue what it takes to be a mother, and a good one? Forget it. But in some small way, I have children, too. More than you. My heart possess a piece of each child who has ever crossed the threshold of my classroom. I teach school and I love your children. Perhaps I cannot pontificate about motherhood but we can relate because I adore and comfort and foster your children when you are not there.
I see your child. I see the way he struggles to learn something new, the moment she thinks she might burst with frustration, the compassion that appears when a friend falls, the sponge-like quality that surfaces and sucks every ounce of knowledge from my mind, the brow that furrows in confusion, the smile that emerges from joy, and the belly laughter that resonates from the soul. If I could give you a gift, it would be for you to see your child as I do; in a mix of peers, emotions, learning, and finding oneself. If nothing else, here are a few glimpses into my world; my gift to you. Enjoy.
Lessons as sweet as pie. Delighted to share my knowledge, I was explaining Pi and how mathematicians found it as a ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter. Writing on the board, I heard whispers of “Pi.” “Piiiiiii” and so on. Certain I was imparting some incredible knowledge, I was spurred on to continue. After an eloquent lesson, I turned to hear one of my darlings say, “You say ‘Pi’ like a country girl.” Bubble burst. Years later another student told me she had seen a really long movie about the guy who calculated Pi. After the guy did that, he got into a boat with a tiger. Enthusiasm and excitement exists, and so innocently invades the space. Right or wrong, it was real.
Learning to be responsible is not easy. It’s not quick. It comes with bumps and bruises along the way. Sometimes it’s three steps forward, two steps back. “Please allow your child to fail. It will be okay.” For some, this can be especially hard. One dear girl tried so hard to be responsible. “Please don’t tell me your mother forgot, she’s not in here,” I’ll say. But mom did forget. Dear girl put the paper in mom’s hand and mom put it down. So hard to see. Every once in a while, that girl crawled up in my lap and sat like a baby. Two, maybe three minutes. She just needed reassurance. She needed to know that if she took those steps, she would still be able to crawl back when needed. And she could. The end of that year, her father told me he thought I was crazy at the beginning of the year. That this one would never make it. I had no idea what I was talking about. He had to eat his words. She made it. And grown, she still comes back for some loving when she needs it. So glad because I can use the hug, too.
Children, just like us, have different crosses to bear. He has a touch of Autism. Highly intelligent and able to work with peers, that fact slipped my mind more than entered it. I chatted with his mom often. He saved it for her. I forgot. Honestly I did. He accepted challenges, worked hard, and grew like a weed. I was reminded when his mother dropped off a gift for me in my box. He just couldn’t give it to me. Too much. I cried. Again I cried when two years later he stood in front of the school and sang in chorus. He faced his challenge head on. With determination. My heart swells.
Anxiety is real. Never more so than for him. Evidence was everywhere; crumbled erasers, paper, crayons, and tears over the slightest bump. I’ll never forget the wails that sounded like painful affliction. Moments like these conjured up my calmest and most definite voice, “Take a break. Come back when you’re ready”. Anxiety made acceptance of this respite seem like a failure so it was not without struggle either. But this is a miniscule morsel of him. The rest of his body must be all heart. He gave the best hugs. He thanked me for teaching him. He loved each of his classmates with a passion that had to be authentic. His struggle gave him genuine compassion for all. Amazing. At age eight. I learned more from him than I could have ever taught him.
Breakfast in the classroom is unpleasant. You’ve seen them eat. It’s not fun, especially when papers are involved. My creative colleague introduced our kids to the Breezeway Café. The hallway was transformed into a sidewalk breakfast shop. Not wanting it to seem like punishment, we asked a couple of students to provide entertainment to the eating students. Two of mine took it to task. One performed tricks, told jokes, and created “hand muffining”. I saw it but I still can’t explain. Another sweet one took the task to heart. At home that night, she crafted a stage and scenery out of an old cardboard box and marionettes out of popsicle sticks and odds and ends. She wrote and performed the skit, like a champ. He mother thought it was some type of assignment. No, just the creativity flowing. I love this stuff.
He was an athlete. Bigger than most, rough and tumble, competitive, and always played hard. Sometimes he didn’t realize his own strength, occasionally others complained about his physicality. So when he was goalie one day, I knew he’d stop everything. Enter an autistic student from another classroom. We had little interaction with him. His teacher asked if he wanted to try to score a goal. He was the antithesis of the athlete. Tiny, afraid, not very athletic but he stepped up to the line. I held my breath. I was sure he was in for an unhappy ending. He touched the ball. It rolled, slowly. The goalie stepped up as the ball eased its way towards him, his hands in line with the slowly rolling ball. As the ball inched its way forward, the goalie raised his hands from formation and let the ball ease its way into goal. “You got me,” he cried. The kicker jumped for joy. I ran to the goalie, lifted him high and hugged him hard. Some things are more important than winning.
There have been so many memorable moments. Here’s to…
- The one who wrote that if we all just noticed others more, then there might not be any more sadness.
- The one who tells me daily that memories of third grade fill a heart.
- The one who, after learning about the solar system, went home and made a miniature replica on her pencil with ribbons and paper.
- The one who convinced me of his leadership experience because he’d been a successful line leader in kindergarten.
- The class who decided that we must give away grace and mercy but hold tight to hope.
- The ones who call me mom (even though it’s by mistake, I am honored).
- The one who got on one knee and asked me to marry him.
- The one whose tears reminded me that just isn’t always fair.
- The ones who light up when I am near (feels a little like celebrity).
Yes, I love your children. And I thank you immensely. For you give me what I do not naturally have, a heart full of children. I am honored to share a part of them. Beauty is, no matter how many reside there, this big old heart has room for more.