If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
- Mary Oliver
On Labor Day, as dusk set in, my daughters were still outside playing with a neighborhood friend. I was outside, too, gathering bikes and balls and jump ropes and in the process of shoving everything into the garage before calling it a day, a labor day—that is, a day filled with labor. School re-entry plans, student protocols, teacher protocols, health and safety forms: the start of the new school year has been, to put it mildly, harder than in years past. I thought a long weekend would do the trick, help me get the rest I needed, let me catch up. But this was a dream. When you have young kids, weekends aren’t weekends; they’re marathon sprints to Sunday night and hopefully you can get the laundry done somewhere in between.
“Oh, girls, look! There’s a stick bug on the side of the house,” our neighborhood friend said.
My five-year-old, Emerson, shuffled to her side and looked hard at the bug. “No, it’s not,” she declared. “That’s not a stick bug, it’s a Praying Mantis. You can tell because its wings are green. See, dad, it’s got three legs on each side, too, which means it’s an insect.”
It was a Praying Mantis, she was right.
Her head swiveled between sentences, her body bounced gently, her breath released between mouthfuls of insect knowledge. “It has a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. We learned a song about it this week!”
She literally glowed.
What followed was a comedy of errors—of course, we had to catch this thing and bring it into Mrs. Stephanie Behringer’s SK class to show Emerson’s friends. I grabbed a Rubbermaid container, while Emerson ran and asked Alexa about Praying Manti habitats. After much insect-catalyzed screaming and almost losing the thing twice, we finally captured it in a grass-filled, plastic to-go box, its sporadically placed air holes a testament to this frenetic process.
After the girls were in bed and with the next episode of Ozark playing, I reflected on this experience. I had witnessed the joy of learning, and Mary Oliver was right, this joy was not a “crumb,” but a full helping of what I needed—a reminder that this moment of joy is the point of school, or more precisely, the point of education. To know something well, to apply your knowledge in a real-world context, to share your knowledge with friends: there’s a deep satisfaction about these experiences that make them positively addicting, in the best sense, the type of addiction that makes you a lifelong learner.
While we had been working frantically with everyone else to get children and adults safely into the building, I had lost sight of the joy that the Park Tudor experience provides all of our students, and Emerson’s excitement was “better than all the riches / or power in the world” and jolted the blinders right off of me.
Over the first five weeks, our parents have been unbelievably supportive. But I want to make a plea for your continued support of and gratitude for our teachers. They are teaching under completely new conditions and having to rethink how they approach learning while students are socially distanced and masked or on Zoom. They are learning new techniques and new technologies, on top of everything else, to continue the quality instruction that is expected from a Park Tudor teacher. What I have observed—from the level of effort and intention to the innovation and collaboration—has made me very proud of this community of educators. From time to time, please just share with them the joy of learning your child has brought home.
So, thank you, Stephanie, for giving Emerson the gift of knowledge, for giving her the opportunity to find the joy in knowing a thing well. It was a gift to her, and me.