By Amy Lemieux
“I’m home!” sang a child, returning to the Autumn Room after a half hour in the art studio. “I’m home.” Moments like these are what have kept us putting one foot in front of the other all year long. To steal a term from a younger but wise colleague, I will do my best to remember this school year as the year of “twisted gifts.”
I do not think it is pessimistic to say that this has been the most agonizing year for adults; we cannot tackle and overcome challenges if we don’t name and accept them. Ignoring the reality of the pandemic, the violence in our world, and our own personal challenges may be easier, but it is far unhealthier than facing them. At the same time, enjoying moments when we can temporarily set the harshness aside has been a lifesaver. Creating a healthy present and a hopeful future is easier to do in the presence of young children, as we have been reminded again and again since June.
“What will they remember?” has been our mantra and driving force each day. Tiny classes with one teacher have created tight-knit communities that have a familial feel. The children know each other at a deeper level, taking comfort in familiarity and easily falling into a rhythm of play. Never have acts of kindness been so prevalent: preschool tokens of affection given to each other and to teachers, helping each other with tricky outdoor gear or opening lunch containers, lending a hand to climb a tree or pull a sled, encouraging a younger child on a long hike. Acts of kindness are abundant.
Celebrating birthdays has been one of the most touching twisted gifts of this year: simple treats of fresh fruit with coconut whipped cream to share, the thrill of chewing gum for the first time, ceremoniously eating a WHOLE grape that hasn’t been pre-cut in front of the class, and bringing a favorite story from home to be shared with the class. News of classroom meet-ups to go sledding or to a park on weekends has warmed our hearts! Listening to children wistfully reminisce about memories “before the virus” or excitedly make plans for elaborate parties “after the virus” is the best kind of gut punch a teacher can ask for this year, those little glimpses into their deepest desires. These twisted gifts calm our adult minds, allowing them to land squarely with the children in the present.
Last March, we mourned the loss of our daily visits into memory care where grandmas and grandpas were plentiful. In September, the absence of our seniors still left a gaping void. But after thirteen months apart, last week each pod was gifted with a grandma reader. While the children could not snuggle in like they had in the past, to us it felt like a tremendous treat and the feeling was mutual. Said one grandma exiting the classroom, “I wish I could visit you every day.”
Our teachers will remember the twisted gifts from this year. What will the children remember? The closeness, the outdoors, knowing that they were seen and valued, and that they contributed to their community.
“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or touched. They are felt with the heart.”
-The Little Prince