Stephanie, a kindergarten girl, began the first morning of her first day of school by standing still in the middle of the playground, telling me that she wanted to go home. She didn’t cry or whimper. Instead, under her red knit cap, she repeated herself – that she wanted to go home and that she wanted her mom.
I walked up to her and made up things to say. Anything I could think of. Redirection is the technical term educators use. Sure you can go home. Let’s walk around the playground. Where did your cap come from? Sure you can go home. We’ll go in just a bit. What did you get to eat for breakfast? Who’s your new best friend?
I wanted to get her around a corner and pulled into some other narrative. The sing song of his teacher’s voice or even the prospect of a might-be-fun day ahead. Then, on her own, she stopped. One of her classmates caught her eye and she ran after this friend – last in line – as the class ascended the stairs. I will never know which thoughts allowed her to get herself unstuck.
Stephanie, just yesterday, reminded me of myself. I sat in my parked car. I kept the window rolled up and I searched for the strength to open the car door to go inside the building. Might-be’s mixing in with must-do’s in my mind.
I wanted to go home.
My day’s start rolled in with a dream I had had the previous night. In this dream, I am driving on a freeway, following someone who then falls behind me. The car I am following drives down an off-ramp as I watch from my rear-view mirror. I then speed forward on the freeway, on my own, without anyone to follow. This fact scares me. I get off the freeway at the next exit, I park, and I make my way on foot through alleys and crowded buildings, never reaching a clear end-point.
How is that dream connected? Alas, my mind!
Later this same day, I listened to five different principals recount factors that led to their successes – how they achieved astounding results in their schools. I thought about days in the classroom, listening to show-and-tell presentations from the teachers’ favorite students. But my question was a humble one: How to acquire the courage to go forward on the days when I am caught in my head. Or when the memory of the previous day’s body-blows still linger and the mind refuses to clear?
My long days arise from my mind and not the facts on the ground. Endless mental rehearsal. Anxiety. Repeat. I have invented daily confidence-building rituals, posting motivational notes, and seeking affirmation in the smallest things in order to reposition myself for what might be – or for what I might imagine.
Stephanie has my answer, and I know it!
What stiffened her spine so that she can move on? I am older, but I am not that different from her. I get pulled along by the might-be as much as I recoil from what I don’t know. A flame just hot enough to light the next wick, encouraging words from an empathetic friend, inquisitiveness that overrides doubt – or even the lack of a better idea. The tricks of a kindergartner might shove me along when I languish, avoid eye-contact, or fail to find the heart to make my next move.