New does not always mean exciting and transitions are rarely seamless. When my daughter had the opportunity to change schools at the delicate turning point between childhood and adolescence, she agonized and I suffered. It was a long summer dreading the adjustment as she struggled with “but what ifs” and I grappled with my memories, those that had imprinted because of the intensity of youthful emotion.
Imprint: the first day of kindergarten. I had on my mother’s creation, a gold poncho with long fringes that brushed my bare arms in the slight breeze as I listened to the school bus rumble its way along our unpaved road. I watched the dirt storm settle behind the back wheels when it stopped, and shot a fearful glance over my shoulder seeking reassurance from my mother’s wave and my brother’s toothy grin. I took that first step, managed the second, seated myself next to a window and pressed my face to the glass, watching the distance from my mother increase as the bus floor vibrated beneath my feet and my poncho clung to my neck.
Changing schools was one of those school-bus-rumbling moments that I did not want for my daughter, but I also accepted the inevitability of knowing that life is a string of those transitions, that she must. She was nervous at the Fall Open House meeting her new teacher. I was trembling.
We were fortunate in our punctuality, her teacher was alone in a classroom that must have seemed enormous in its unfamiliarity to a small girl. I swallowed, managed a smile that probably looked more like a grimace, and propelled us across the threshold. Her teacher, Marcia, was already in motion.
“It’s nice to meet you,” Marcia said. Her voice and movements held an innate grace that brought to mind Hepburn elegance as she bent down next to my daughter to make her height seem less formidable. Marcia asked about her about her hobbies and expectations, offering my daughter glimpses into her own personality to make the acquaintance of a new teacher less frightening.
When I saw my daughter’s smile, I could breathe. When Marcia stood and I felt the full force of that same curiosity and acceptance, I was reassured.
If we arrived early to school that year, she was there and her car was the last one in the parking lot. In spite of a new curriculum and students who in her words “keep me on my toes,” her smile never dimmed. I was fortunate in volunteering, adding my hands to extra tasks while watching her instruct and inspire, awed that she could make The Secret Garden, horticultural genomes, and mathematical areas equally compelling.
I was in the classroom one morning, trying to be unobtrusive while pulling staples from a bulletin board and eavesdropping on Marcia’s presentation of a literary passage. A student read aloud and general comments followed, ones far more astute than what I gleaned.
“Lets talk about that,” Marcia said, spurring more discussion on what the author meant with the word choices. “Do you think the sea really had ‘fingers’?” which opened up the avenue for her to explore the concept of personification in literature.
Excitement bubbled. Theories abounded, both the serious and the ridiculous, but all with an air of empowerment, that they’d been given a bit of knowledge, a gift that exposed them just a little bit more to the vastness of education, added just a little bit more to the tools that they took into the world.
Marcia laughed. I tried to keep my chuckling the silent sort and paused in my task to glance over my shoulder at the students and Marcia.
Experiences change me. I have run through a silent field at sunrise, a mist capturing those first rays and enfolding them around me in a shimmering, divine embrace.
The expression on Marcia’s face was no less moving. She was luminescent. Joy spilled from her, mirrored in every upturned, eager, young face.
In her expression I read a promise: I will give you everything I have and with it, I am restored.
Imprinted. That moment is indelible, captured in my memory, labeled with the term unconditional generosity, and held in that special place that reserves my treasures.
I’d like to say my daughter sailed smoothly through her transition from child to young adult, but that wouldn’t be the whole story. No growth comes without painful stretches. But it was made easier by having Marcia a prominent part of our lives that year.
She taught my child in a manner that I could not, that it was okay to fail; value comes in failing. That it was okay to pour out her artistic spirit; the soul craves creativity. That it was okay to look forward, stand tall with Hollywood grace and unfettered optimism, and share her gifts with the world. The world is richer for it.
How can you thank someone properly who turns transitions into things of such great beauty that you savor them like shiny treasures and cradle the divinity within them?
It’s inequitably simple, but my gratitude for Marcia and for all the teachers that give with unconditional generosity comes from that changed place within me . . . and with it the hope that they are always restored.
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