My mom recently retired from over 40 years of teaching. For most of those years, she taught Kindergarten. She’s the epitome of the perfect Kindergarten teacher – kind, nurturing, energetic, sing-songy, and able to hold a classroom of young children under her spell.
Did you ever have a teacher you loved? Really, deeply loved? One you drew pictures for, wrote notes to, one that made you feel special and talented in some unique way? My mom is that kind of teacher. She’s been that teacher for hundreds of students. She won’t even mention it or boast about it, but they seek her out years later to let her know what an impact she had on them.
Most of her students came from loving homes. To these students, my mom was a wonderful additional person in their village of caretakers and guides. She was the safe space they came to for their first full year of school, and after school, these children went home to parents who were present, kind, and loving. But inevitably, there were students who didn’t have a supportive village or a loving home to return to. To these students, my mom became their world. The one place they received the love and care they so desperately needed and deserved. The one person that saw them, saw their potential, and coaxed it out. The person who brushed their hair or buttoned their coat or washed their breakfast remnants off of their face or made sure they GOT breakfast.
I remember one such student. The way she would linger in the classroom, not wanting to leave, while all the other students rushed to get their bags at the end of the day. The way her eyes followed my mom everywhere. The way her hair often had tangles in it and her clothes were wrinkled and stained. I was young then, and a part of me sensed that she wanted my mom to be HER mom. A part of me felt threatened, jealous. But another part of me realized – without fully realizing – that she, in some ways, needed my mom even more than I did.
My mom wasn’t “just” a teacher – although that alone is a weighty role – she was so much more. To the students, and also to her colleagues. She brought enthusiasm, kindness, generosity, warmth, creativity, and boundless energy to every school she graced. I’d like to think I’ve imbued some of her qualities over the years. I’ll never have her patience – but I’ve definitely learned about kindness from my mom’s constant, daily example. I’ve learned about generosity and how joyful it can be to give, to share, to do for others. My mom always made it fun – she added pizzazz to the mundane, sometimes in the form of a sparkly ribbon, sometimes through a song or a costume or a story.
Gift-wrapping and interior decorating aren’t skills she managed to pass on to me, either, but I have learned about creating an atmosphere – how the look and feel of a place, an object, can uplift and inspire, can calm and soothe. My mom put her special touch on every classroom, every art project, every activity she created. She built a safe, fun, colorful container for learning, for growing, for becoming. I got the benefit of this at home, her students received it at school. She never stopped giving, never stopped creating magical spaces and special days for everyone around her.
My mother is a gift. She adds joy and sparkle and love and warmth wherever she goes. Childhood SHOULD be magical, it should feel safe and nurturing, and it should be fun. My mom created this kind of childhood not just for me and my brother, but for every child she taught. She did this with a smile on her face and going on 6 hours of sleep most nights. She spent a full day teaching and guiding a roomful of active children, and came home and read me stories. She fielded calls from anxious parents, stayed up late to prepare new activities or write progress reports, and still made it to every dance recital, show, awards ceremony, baseball game, etc. We never missed my mom. She gave her all, all the time. She not only taught me how to read and write, to be kind and to dream big – she taught me how to be a mom. And that’s something I’m not too modest to say I’m pretty darn good at! I have her to thank.
Mom, I love you. You have more than earned this retirement. I hope you’ll finally get to catch up on some sleep. I hope you won’t miss teaching too much. You’ve got some pretty cute grandkids who need your attention now, so that should keep you busy! But not too busy. Because now you get to do whatever the heck YOU want to do, AND I WANT YOU TO DO THAT!
You launched me into life fully believing that I can live my dreams. And I do. You get to live a new dream now, and I’m excited to see what it will be.
Thank you for being my first, best, and favorite teacher, Mom. I love you forever!!