The end of the school year is here. It’s not the first end of a school year I have ever experienced, but it feels like it. We are being asked to write thank-you cards to our teachers, and all I can think is, “Thank-you cards? Will they be dipped in GOLD?” Because that would feel more appropriate. I understand why we are giving them thank you cards. Thank you cards are nice! They can be read, kept, read again, and eventually . . . recycled. I think, though, that, considering the year we’ve had, a blog post is in order.
The Tucson Community School is housed in a couple of old, quirky buildings in an unassuming residential neighborhood in central Tucson. The school is a lot like the buildings and the neighborhood: quirky and unassuming. It’s been there for (I think) over 40 years. It’s the only parent-owned co-operative school in the city and is full of wonderful parents who want to be involved in their children’s education. There are ducks, chickens (actually, the chickens committed suicide this year, I think), guinea pigs, and rabbits. It’s magical. It resonates with a spirit of consideration and attentiveness to children that makes me wish I could regress to childhood and do it all over again.
Rowan is my first child. He’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, and, of course, totally better than any other kid. Including yours. Sorry. It’s the facts, Jack. I’m sure we all feel that way about our kids, right? The fact that he’s the nicest kid means that, well, Rowan has had some challenges. He’s actually been a little too nice. He doesn’t get things that other kids get, like, I don’t know . . . machine-gun play, or mean-spiritedness. So when it’s thrust upon him, he doesn’t necessarily know how to handle it. Early on in the last school year, the teachers suggested we get his eyes checked, because when kids ran toward him, he would thrust his hands out to block them—they thought he was being unnecessarily physical. Once they got to know him, they thought that perhaps he was having vision problems—that he couldn’t see them until they were too close and got startled. In fact, it was neither. He was simply scared they were going to hurt him. They came too fast, and he got worried.
But I don’t want to dwell on the past, or assign to Rowan personality traits that don’t belong to him anymore. This year? Well, this year has been nothing short of amazing.
I’ve watched Rowan struggle to read and write, and to feel socially comfortable. His own need for perfection was an obstacle I knew I could not remove for him. I looked to his teachers. Or, more accurately, I trusted his teachers. That trust was well placed. Where once he would throw his pencil across the room in frustration, as he did at the beginning of the year, he now writes with abandon. He misspells words, but he doesn’t let it stop him as it used to. He just writes and writes and writes. He used to get angry when trying to read because he stumbled over words. Now he just reads. He reads like the freaking wind. And where once he would cry when someone didn’t include him in play? He now moves on, with confidence and security. As he himself said to me, “I have so many friends that if one doesn’t want to play? I just find another!”
This isn’t something that just happened. It was cultivated. In my profession, as I work on a body, I can tell when muscle tissue isn’t ready to release, when it needs more coaxing or manipulation, and I do what it needs until it’s ready. This is something that can take many treatments over the course of many months. There is no difference between what I do for the body, and what these teachers do for the minds of children. They are intuitive and attentive with each child. It was no big thing that he couldn’t read or write. It was, as his teacher put it, “A-OK.” Children learn and develop at their own pace, and at Rowan’s school, each is supported in the way that they needed to be.
Another big change that we’ve noticed is that Rowan now has the confidence of a freaking heavyweight champion. In fact, he’s downright cocky, which is a welcome change (and as his teacher put it, “exactly where you want him to be”). He talks and talks and talks. In fact, he never stops talking. It’s both hysterical and pretty fucking annoying. But, it’s clear to me that it’s because his classmates and teachers listen to him. They hear everything he wants to say, so why wouldn’t everyone else?
Never. Stops. Talking.
He’s learned to take some risks, which may sound trivial to you, but for a kid like Rowan—a self-proclaimed safety freak—it’s HUGE. This is a kid who goes around telling other kids “Be careful! That looks pretty dangerous!” and who wouldn’t learn how to swing by himself because he was afraid of heights. Until—you guessed it—Kindergarten.
He’s learned so many other things: how to be a good friend, how to ask for what he needs, how to deal with conflict, how to add and subtract . . . But more importantly, he has found his footing and embraced his own special place in the world. He knows he can do anything he wants to do. ANYTHING. And that’s worth more than any academic skill he will learn. His teachers have made the space for him he needed to blossom. They made it, they’ve watched it, added those little boosts of belief in him, and helped Rowan become practically invincible.
I’d be lying if I said this year has been easy. At times it’s been excruciatingly hard. Our special school (read these if you want more info) has been through a shitstorm of shit. An incident at the beginning of the year resulted in an onslaught of negativity, anger, and mistrust from some parents at our school. Opinions were voiced, and some parents just kept on voicing them. Loudly. And perhaps at the wrong people, and for longer than necessary. It’s been hard on the teachers, and the community as a whole. But, there was never a moment when it seeped over onto the children. The parents went a little bat-shit crazy, but the kids?
The kids are amazing.
So, this is my thank you. Something that is never enough, and never will be: mere words. Rowan was given wings, gently and at just the right time, by his teachers. The foundation has been laid for my child by wonderful people who get paid beans compared to what they’re really worth. They do it with love and a genuine wish for the well-being of our children. They never see what’s lacking, but what’s ripe to be cultivated and nurtured. And they do it because they love it. And hundreds, if not thousands, of children over the course of their lives will love them in return and remember them always.