When I was little I had many, many great teachers (and a few not so great ones). My first grade teacher, Mrs. Caruso was one of the greats. This woman was loving, caring and generous. I could hardly wait to go to school and sit at my desk, pencil in hand, heart pounding, wondering what new thing she would teach us, what new contest she would invent. The reading contest is still one of my favorite memories. For every book we read our parents would fill out a flower petal to add to our paper flower at school. Soon a colorful, construction paper flower garden was springing up all around the classroom. At the end of the year Mrs. Caruso laid out a table full of treasures (little did I know that the treats was actually toys she had purchased with her own money at various garage sales). The person with the most flower petals got to go up to the table and choose their toy first, followed by the second, the third etc. What a great day that was!
Mrs. Caruso would also occasionally call me up to her desk, quietly winking and slipping me a note. Inside the note it would say, “Tell your mom I am going to buy you hot lunch tomorrow.” Now maybe to you this is not a big deal but to me, the fifth child in a family of twelve children, (well at that time there may have been only eight or nine of us) hot lunch was for rich kids. Oh, to be able to buy chicken and French fries, and sit at the hot lunch table! (Yes, back then there was the cold lunch table and the hot lunch table. Classism at its best!) Mrs. Caruso would also occasionally ask me to stay after school, and then give me a ride home, bags of toys and clothes stuffed in the back seat for us. She would invite my family, all of us, over to her house in the summer, where we would drink lemonade, stare at her white sofa and wonder at her koi fish in the back yard. Mrs. Caruso clearly knew that my family was struggling, that there were a lot of kids and maybe not always enough money for the extras that everyone else around us seemed to have. She went out of her way to make me feel special and smart, praising me, telling me what a great reader I was, how creative my stories were. I didn’t always feel smart, certainly not in third grade and not through all of junior high, but in first grade, I was smart, and loved. I loved her.
Years later my mother told me that Mrs. Caruso started off every parent teacher conference with lots of sweetness, something like, “I love so and so. She is a wonderful child! So smart, so clever. She really gives everything her all…etc.” Then after filling you up with honey, she would slip in one or two things your child could work on, “…however her desk is very untidy. She seems a little disorganized. Math is difficult for her.”
Now a parent myself I realize how effective this technique is. I have recently had my own parent-teacher conferences and when the teacher starts off with. “ He is so funny, happy, eager, etc.” I am so much more willing and able to hear the “but” that comes next. Fill me up. Let me know that you like my child, that you appreciate them, then slip in your “however…” We all worry, we all know our children struggle with something, but we all want them to be loved, appreciated, and cared for.
Here is a little piece I wrote the other day as I watched my four-year dance, sing and play. This is her last year before kindergarten…before it all starts. When I was deciding whether to send her onto school this year or not, (she is a late August baby, which would make her a full year younger than many of her classmates) her preschool teacher wisely said, “Why rush? Why not give her another year of childhood?”
I thought, she’s right. Wouldn’t we all love another year of childhood? How great it would be to be four again and not worry about playground politics or math tests. How great to be able to read a book you want to read when you want to read it. To draw a picture and hang it up, proud of your work, not worrying that an art teacher is going to critique it or assign a grade to your masterpiece. To play baseball in the backyard for fun, not worrying about strikes or homeruns. How awesome to not be judged, because the real judging will come soon enough.
Why I wish I could be four again…
You can wear a two-piece on the beach and not worry about your tummy sticking out because the more it sticks out the cuter it is.
You can tell someone you love them, whenever you feel like it.
You can hug anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.
You can take long, warm bubble baths on a nightly basis.
You can fill your bed with stuffed animals.
You can laugh, skip and sing all the way down the street and no one thinks you are crazy.
You fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up, fall and get up….
When you fall, someone hugs you and wipes away your tears.
You can wear blue polka pants, a rainbow striped, sparkly shirt and purple cowboy boots and still look cute.
You can look at yourself in the mirror and loudly announce, “I am beautiful.”
You can order a hamburger, french fries and wash it all down wash it down with a coke without worrying about the calories.
You can spend hours playing with your best friend, your shadow.
You can wear a ballet tutu to Target in the middle of a snowstorm.
You can ask a million questions like, “Where does the sun go at night?” “Why do fireflies light up?” “How far is it to China?” and no one will think you are stupid for asking.
You don’t need three cups of coffee or a double latté to wake up in the morning.
You can tell come right out and tell someone, “You are mean. You hurt my feelings.”
Everyone smiles at you.
You can proudly say, “Look what I did!” and no one thinks you are bragging, they just clap.
A chocolate chip cookie fixes everything.
You can fall asleep anywhere and someone will pick you up and carry you to bed.