There are those really good days that we have as teachers, the days that have a moment or are filled with moments of connection, of understanding, of meaning. I had one of those days last week.
We have been reading My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. I like it for the math, for the mapping, and for how the Alley Cat helps Elmer with packing his knapsack with things that would keep him alive long enough to rescue the baby dragon. There are problems with the book, sure, like the part about Elmer's mother throwing the Alley Cat out in the street and then whipping Elmer for bringing her inside and using the mother's dishes to give the cat milk. Well, that's a bit of discussion, isn't it?
So there I go reading the book as I do about this time of the year pointing out the things as I do along the way and then something magical happened. I realized that we had left the mother too quickly.
Why had she acted like that? You can dig out important bits about being an ally in this book! The Alley Cat saves both Elmer and the baby Dragon. Elmer can't stay home. He is not leaving for fun. He lives in a bad situation. By giving Elmer a plan to rescue the dragon, the Alley Cat rescues Elmer. And by rescuing the dragon, the dragon will no longer be trapped and treated badly by the animals of Wild Island. But why are the animals of Wild Island so cruel to the dragon? They are even cruel to each other. And in little bits and pieces, they push and pull at each other. They are vain and pushy. And sure, they also are very hungry. The mother whipping Elmer is a truly a situation. All this meanness can be moved past, but why move past it?
We circled back 'round to all that last week. My thinking is that we have to be aware of what others lack, don't we? I shared some of my thinking with the children . . . At some point in the mother's life, no one talked with her about how to recognize her anger and to breathe, to learn how to stop the 0 to 60 reactions. No one talked with her about owning her disappointment and figuring out what to do with that disappointment. Since she didn't have someone help her with this when she was little and probably no one showed her kindness and because of this, she did not learn to be kind to herself. The same thing probably goes for the Wild Animals certainly, anyone can see that!
"She needed to learn to give herself a hug," one of the Tracks class children said while punctuating her comment by hugging herself. Another said, "Maybe she needed more kindness when she was little!" and then another, "Maybe no one saw that she needed kindness."
These are all things we talk about regularly and sometimes we can feel like we are just talking, but here, on this day, we see the seed we planted growing and taking bloom. We can imagine that the best day is when a child gives you a hug. Those are good days, certainly, but the best day, in my opinion, is when your work and all that careful selection of words and supporting actions come back to you as a child recognizes that you have to love yourself first and that kindness shared with others comes back ten-fold later in life.
Saucers of milk for everyone! This is a good day!