By Sandy Barton
There are so many times I’ve wondered … about how things work, why people act the way they do, what the future will hold, and lately, what people will remember down the road. I wonder if the intricate details of academic studies will overtake the day-to-day moments that seem to melt, one into another. I wonder if our interactions with other human beings, you know, the conversations, the simple acts of kindness, the bursts of discovery, or the words of encouragement, really matter.
I wondered about these things while raising my family and during my 30 years of teaching elementary school children. Recently I’ve been treated to conversations that reveal some answers to my wondering. After all these years, after all the layers of life that have piled high, I have heard what stuck, what earned top billing in the memory banks of my kids and students.
Now that my adult children are beginning families of their own, our conversations tend to veer toward the days playing outside, building forts, planting gardens, watching for Santa from a tiny round window, and walking endless paths in the woods that led to neighbors, and horses, and moments of wonder. These are the things my kids want their spouses to know about their childhood; these are the memories that have survived the ups, the downs, and the years of their lives. And I listen with a whole new kind of wonder.
Now, those are my kids, not “my kids.” “My kids” are the students I have taught over the years. Talk to teachers and you’ll most likely hear them refer to their students as “my kids,” an endearing term used to describe the children who took up housekeeping in our hearts year after year. I wondered what they would remember about our time together.
Well, graduation parties, book clubs and lunches have given me opportunities to find out. I can’t say I’m surprised by their memories, rather I’m encouraged to know that they learned lessons about life, and still hold wonder in their hearts.
The wonder-filled moments that we shared are the ones that lasted. When I heard the once 6-year-old “my kids” (now 30) tell others about the leprechauns that lived in my backyard, or my leprechaun friend, Mr. McAllister, who actually came to school hidden in a bucket of soil and moss, I had to smile. They swear they still believe.
Oh, and “Mrs. Barton, I remember that big round stone you used to make stone soup!”
I’m not sure I’ve seen eyes open as wide as hers did when her friend interrupted with, “I don’t think it actually was IN the soup … was it?”
Ahhh, the wonder of it all. From there we talked about hatching the chicks and the tiny one that didn’t make it. About how we buried it under the tree near the playground, so we could remember how important that little life was. Yes, they remembered it all.
Not a mention was made about the tests or the math books, the spelling words or the days of the week, important as that all was. (I take that back, there was talk of the day we were learning about estimating, so they estimated how many kids would fit in my van. All 25, to be exact; it was a tight fit, but no one was harmed during the experiment.)
So, if I may be so bold as to share some advice, be it to teachers or parents: Be mindful of the tiny moments. They have mighty power and may just be the key ingredients when creating our most magical sense – the sense of wonder.
Sandy Barton is a local author who loves catching up with her past students.