Piping songs of pleasant glee,
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me…”
Although William Blake (Songs of Innocence, 1789) put it much better than I, sometimes I feel like the children I see every day gain their energy from the fluff of clouds. I so greatly enjoy hearing whatever comes out of their mouths -- because eight-year-old mouths are losing their baby teeth and through the gaps flow unfiltered thoughts. Below are a few of the conversations that have recently brightened my days. Of course, not everything the students say is wonderful and cute. There is bullying; there is disrespect; there are fart jokes. But in a world full of deadly viruses, warring Middle Easterners and the pain of aging, the beautiful moments are the ones that need to be recorded. Here are some priceless quotations and the reflections of mine that often follow:
* * *
7:44 am. I walk down the hall towards my classroom. Three third grade boys run at me.
“Where were you?”
“Why are you late?!”
“The classroom’s locked!”
I am, in fact, not late. Teachers are supposed to arrive by 7:45, at which point kids are allowed in the classroom. I had been making a point to get there early, thereby raising the early-comers’ expectations of me. In any case, one of them gives me a huge hug and says,
“I’m so happy today!”
“Because I’m trying to be happy about everything!”
Evidently, we do not need positive psychologists and self-help books to instruct us about achieving happiness. We just need third-graders.
* * *
7:52 am. The classroom is bustling with students preparing for the day. A dark-skinned, curious half-Israeli student who had gone to a Celtics game and brought his foam finger to school pipes up with,
“Would you believe me if I said I went to the Bahamas and kissed a dolphin on the lips?”
“Yesterday?” I reply. “No.”
“No, last year.”
A few minutes later, the same student has found a red feather in the craft supplies cupboard. He is now standing next to the electric pencil sharpener.
“I wonder what would happen if I tried to sharpen this feather.”
Me: “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
The student sticks the feather in the pencil sharpener. Whirrr. Two seconds later, he pulls out a mutilated feather. His face falls.
Obviously, some things must be experienced first hand. Let’s pray he limits his experiences to the realm of indoor, non-fire-related activities.
* * *
7:58 am. A blond, spiky-haired boy who could intermittently power a Prius with his energy walks into the classroom two minutes before tefillah and bursts out with:
“Some idiot from Africa brought Ebola into the US!”
Later, on NPR, I hear about Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian who unknowingly contracted the disease, traveled to Texas, and died there.
It seems I am now getting my news from third-graders (granted, it is biased third-grader news. The word “idiot” has not appeared on any official news reports about Ebola.)
* * *
8:40am. We say the first two words of the last of the morning prayers and the fire alarm goes off: our first fire drill of the year. BEEP. BEEP. BEEP. The kids know what to do. They put down their books and crowd toward the door. One of them, the absent-minded professor who is always doodling complex maps and sitting calmly as his papers and markers fly everywhere, starts dancing as if in a disco club. After we are back inside, I ask him,
“Do you like fire drills?”
Pause. (He always pauses to think and fidget before responding): “First I freak out, but then it’s pretty cool.”
Another of my favorite comments of his:
“Do you know why I always get to school so early?” he asks me.
“Because I live six houses away!”
“Oh, that’s great!”
“And sometimes I run! And leave my sister behind.”
“Want to know something freaky?”
“This morning, I went downstairs before my mom and dad were awake and smelled the lulav and etrog! And they never found out!”
“Oh wow!” I reply. “Is that at 5 am when you usually wake up?”
“No, it was at 4:55.”
Apparently, smelling Jewish ritual objects is “freaky” and waking up before the sun makes for a very easy six-house commute.
|Not this kid!|
* * *
In class, we discussed the question: Why did Sarah laugh when she found out she was going to have a baby? The kids arrived at two answers:
- Because she was like, “What?!? I’m so old!”
- Because she was so happy that Hashem would do this for her and she laughed out of joy that a miracle was being performed for her (actually, this answer was more teacher-supplied)
The teacher told everyone that “Sometimes we just have to ask questions. We’ll never know which answer is correct!” At which point one of the kids muttered under his breath:
“Unless we had a time machine!”
When he gets the Nobel Prize for Science, Religion, and/or History, I’ll be able to say I knew him when he was eight, and witnessed the beginnings of the newest form of Bible scholarship: Torah Time Travel.
* * *
In addition to their sparkling words, I have come to the conclusion that most children are exceptionally beautiful. The wave of hair that falls across a face. The bright hazel eyes with flecks of gold. The long lashes that flutter softly over the pages of a book. The soft cheek that looks as smooth as milk. The sturdy, healthy little limbs that run around on the grass and carry strong bodies from place to place. Essentially, all of the physical attributes that adults work for, the children already have. Yes, we are chasing youth.
|Don't we all want to look like this??|
* * *
Above, I quoted a small piece of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence. My appreciation of Blake was rekindled recently when I read Tracy Chevalier’s novel “Burning Bright.” The book tells the story of two English children whose friendship Mr. Blake observes and weaves into his creation of Songs of Innocence and of Experience. As the book progresses, the children predictably mature from an age of innocence to one of experience--but they do so in an unpredictable manner: they notice and are thrust into the struggles of those older than them, thus learning about selflessness, loyalty, and the beginnings of love. A truly enchanting tale, this book fell into my lap at just the right time: I am surrounded by children who are growing and observing, yet who are also enjoying the peak of their innocence.
I recommend it!