Today as I walked across the playground to my car, carrying a big box of treasures my little ones and their families had bestowed on me, I stared up at the pale sky and grinned at small miracles, like the joy of outside recess for the first time in weeks.
As I crossed the playground past wallball courts, one of my little boys, who stays for after school care, came tearing across the blacktop, running full speed and only stopping when his arms were tightly wrapped around my legs, like it had been years since we’d seen each other, instead of the short side of half an hour.
I adore this kid. He’s helpful and kind, smart and hilarious. He excels in making armpit noises. He’s everything a kid should be.
Earlier in the week, he’d strutted into class and during the “Good News” portion of our Class Morning Meeting he’d showed off his new, fast shoes.
He lamented, “But, Mrs. McCauley, it’s been raining forever and I’m never going to get to show you my fast shoes during P.E. All I want to do is run and play.” He rested his head on my shoulder.
“Buddy, I’m with you. All I want is for you to be able to run and play. Believe me,” I said with utter sincerity. Sweet teacher friends, you know the desperation that arises after days on end of rain and no recess. It’s a visceral need akin to thirst or hunger.
As I balanced my box and he hugged my legs, he looked up at me and grinned, the windowed smile that is the hallmark of first grade. This kid has freckles for days, smattered across his nose and cheeks.
“Have a merry Christmas,” I leaned into him.
“Merry Christmas, Mrs. McCauley. I’m going to miss you.”
For many of my little ones, the last day before Christmas break is a difficult day. Being away from school, from friends, from teachers and librarians and aides and cooks and custodians who love them so much is hard. This little one has a family who loves him, a warm house, food on the table, but still it’s hard. Two weeks is an eternity to a kid.
“I’m going to miss you, too, but I’ll see you after vacation. And then we’ll tell each other all about the things we did,” I assure him.
I felt him nodding his head against my leg. He peeled away from me and walked a few steps before turning back toward me. He swallowed hard.
“I love you, Mrs. McCauley.”
He waited for me to say it back. I always do. I tell my kids all of the time, but still never enough, that I love them.
“I love you, too, buddy,” I smiled.
He gave a last wave and ran toward the swings. I watched his fast shoes splash through the puddles.
At home, I unpacked all of my gifts, filling two notepad pages with names and items for one of these lazy vacation mornings when I’ll sit in my pajamas with a cup of tea and pen thank you notes.
As I sat under the light of my Christmas tree, I smiled because I knew I’d received a gift too big to be listed in a notebook, a gift so perfect that I’ll be grateful for it long after I’ve penned my thanks for all the other kindnesses I received today.