My second day of school began at 3:30am, perhaps the unholiest of all sleeping hours to be awake. I laid in bed willing myself to go back to sleep, telling myself I was going to need my energy to keep up with my new little ones, but the millions of little tasks that I had ahead of me began to romp and play in my brain. After laying in bed for an hour, I clomped out to the couch and started on my To Do List.
As I worked in the quiet of my house and watched the moon change guards with the sun, I couldn’t help but think of Jim Burke’s tweet from a few weeks ago. Ever since I read it, it’s been resting deep in a pocket of my belly, a place reserved for meaty ideas that need time to digest.
That’s the mindset I’ve had the last couple of weeks. Just what if this is my best year yet? This thought also has a little brother that tags along, poking at me. What am I doing to make it the best year yet?
My first day of school was a great one and even though I’d woken at 3:30, I was determined to make my second day equally great. I wasn’t willing to concede my best teaching year yet to a pesky bout of insomnia.
At school, I started in on my list of things to do, setting a birthday crown on a little girl’s desk and relishing the rarity that is alone time in my classroom. Then my happy little ones trooped in from morning recess. The room buzzed with parents and kids getting settled in for the day.
The birthday girl and her mom were one of the first to arrive. Nodding to the food allergy sign on my door, I asked if she was going to send in birthday treats for the class. The mom explained that they were poor, that there would be no birthday treats, no birthday party and very few presents. I understood. Single moms have it rough and I patted her on the arm. Then the Birthday Girl spoke up. She looked up at me from underneath her head of white blonde hair and said, “We’re going to have a special day just spending time together.” Be still my beating heart, I love this little girl. She gets it. She so gets it. I smiled at her and asked if she’d like her mom to help her put her birthday crown on. This little one’s jaw just about came unhinged. “You made me a birthday crown?” Her voice lifted into a squeak. I pointed to her desk. She clapped and rushed over, her mom following close behind. A minute later, while I talked with another mom, I felt her hugging the backs of my legs. It was a tight squeeze, so tight that I could feel her lips moving against my pants as I heard a very muffled, “Thank you for my crown, Mrs. McCauley.” Later that day, when I asked about her life goals now that she’s six, she told me she wanted to learn how to do a cartwheel and learn to fly, not in an airplane, but really fly. My heart puddled on the spot.
Best Year Yet: Flying high.
As parents said goodbye to their kids, one of my little boys, a husky guy with a heart of gold, was in tears at the prospect of saying goodbye to his dad. I reassured him that today was going to be a good day and I hugged him for a few minutes. He cried on my shoulder while his dad hurried off to work. A few minutes later he was fine.
Best Year Yet: A little damp on the shoulders, but none the worse for wear.
The parents left and we got started on our day. We counted our hot lunches, sang the Good Morning Song and said the Flag Salute. Just as we finished “and justice for all” a sleepy faced, pale little guy, who sits right in front of me on the carpet, turned a whiter shade of pale. Uh-oh. I know that look. I’ve seen that look too many times before. The next few seconds felt like slow motion as I twisted out of the firing zone, and Lord have mercy, that kid let fly and puked all over the spot where I was just sitting. He missed me by about an inch as I grabbed a trash can and held it under his chin. Another kid’s mom was working in the hallway and she popped her head in at that moment and I passed my sick little guy to her and she ushered him to the nurse.
Best Year Yet: Nimble and vomit free
We had a great day together, reading, writing, graphing, and laughing hysterically during Author’s Chair at a story one of my little guys is writing about a koala bear who goes to school. Koala Kid is going to be a ton of fun to write with. Before I knew it, it was time to have our closing meeting and say our goodbyes for the day.
At our closing class meeting, one of my little guys, a darling little boy who happens to have autism, raised his hand and said, “Mrs. McCauley, I love you so much I want to buy you a limousine!” I’m already tickled by how his mind works. I told him I loved him a lot, too.
Best Year Yet: Riding in style
My little ones gathered their backpacks and I held onto the hands of my bus riders as we navigated the parents bustling in and out of the hallway. I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned and saw the father of the kid who was crying that morning. “Thank you for helping my son this morning. I appreciated it.” I stood there blinking. A parent just thanked me. Like out loud. And sincerely. Holy cats, was I dreaming? I shook my head back to the present, “My pleasure. He’s a great kid and we had a really good day.” The two of them left and I held a little tighter to the hands of my bus riders as we wove through a maze of people. Koala Kid’s mom stopped me and asked if her son had already left the classroom. I assured her that she’d just missed him by a few seconds. I walked my bus riders to their bus line and just as I turned to go back to my classroom, Koala Kid got in the bus line. He explained to me that his mom wasn’t where she said she’d be and that he took the bus home all last year so he thought he’d take it home today. I took his hand and was just starting to lead him to his mom when she caught up with us. I braced myself, ready for her to blame me because he was in the wrong place. Instead she said, “Oh, thank you for helping me find him. I was late because I couldn’t find a parking spot. I’m sorry. He rode the bus home all last year, so that’s why he got in the bus line, but this year I get to stay at home so I’ll pick him up. Thanks again for finding him.” The three of us had a chat about where he will meet his mom each day and I walked back to my classroom. Two parents thanking me in the span of 10 minutes? Surely I was dreaming.
Best Year Yet: Surreally happening
Back in my classroom, a former parent was waiting for me with Simpson University bag in her hands. Our school is doing a big push for university preparedness and we have a College Shirt day coming up. I don’t have a shirt from my alma mater, but this mom works there, so when I bumped into her the day before, I’d asked if she had a shirt I could borrow and maybe some letterhead or something I could use for the bulletin board I was supposed to make to display my degrees. This mom did so much better than that. She came with a bag full of stuff she’d bought from the university store. There was a t-shirt, a pennant, a stuffed mascot, stickers, folders, etc. I thanked her and asked how much I needed to pay her. Nothing, she said. I insisted again. She refused saying that the university had donated the items because they wanted to be publicly represented by people like me.
Best Year Yet: All decked out in free swag
A couple of minutes after the Simpson mom left, one of my little ones from last year popped her head in to see if I needed any help. This little one was a challenge last year, as was her mother, both of them questioning my every decision. I love this little one, but I did not love being her teacher. But this year, I’m no longer her teacher, meaning I get to enjoy her in small doses. I had a few tasks she for her and as we worked, we chatted about her summer and second grade so far. She showed me the teeth she’d lost and we laughed at misadventures at the waterslide park. Half an hour later, her jobs were finished and she bounced back to the after school program. I was truly glad to see her and grateful for her help.
Best Year Yet: Still going strong
As I walked to my car, I checked my e-mail and there in my inbox was a notification that I’d won a huge basket of school supplies from Rose Art. I’d put my business card in their drawing at BlogHer, but I never thought I’d win. I never win anything, let alone something as useful as school supplies. I mean, just look at that basket! I walked to my car with a little more of a spring in my step.
Best Year Yet: Duh-winning!
After school, I met up with a friend to see her new house and walk her dog. This friend had a couple of tough years and as we chatted down the streets of her new neighborhood, I heard a lilt of happiness in her voice. Her new house fits her, like a reflection of all her best parts. We walked and talked and it was just so apparent that she’d found herself again. I watched her wrangling her huge dog on a leash, and caught her smiling just as the sun hit her face. It was a beautiful moment and I have a feeling she’s in store for a lot of them this year.
Best Year Yet: Progressing beautifully
As I was leaving her house, That Laura called to see if I had time to stop for frozen yogurt. When don’t I have time for frozen yogurt? Because everything was going my way, the yogurt shop had my favorite flavor, of course. We let the cool yogurt slide down our throats, a blessed relief from the 104 degree heat that day. As we slurped our yogurt down, I told That Laura about my amazing day. One of That Laura’s best qualities is that she is genuinely happy when good things happen to other people.
Best Year Yet: Tastier than Ever
Back at home, Terry and I spent a quiet evening together, filling each other in on the day. We read our books and just hung around the house, a perfect ending to my day. In bed that night as I waited for sleep to find me, I replayed the day again in my head. It was filled to the brim with sweetness, like if one more lovely thing had occurred, I would have overflowed. And maybe that’s the key to making this year the best one yet: not only being open to receiving the grace and generosity of others, but seeking out opportunities to be gracious and generous to those I encounter.
Best Year Yet: Definitely.
Stay tuned for Part 2, The Yang.