BY LES McCARTHY
January 27, 2016
Years ago—eons it seems—I spent my afternoons tutoring elementary school kids.
Whether they needed academic help, enrichment or an enhancement of their organizational or study skills—the one thing they all needed (and got) was the opportunity to just BE.
As in, to be themselves.
Sometimes, in school, a child is tagged as “that kid” or is known only as the “younger/older sibling of so-and-so,” with no identity of their own. Or perhaps she or he is labeled the class clown, the loner, the nerd, the lazy one, the weirdo, the trouble-maker, the…whatever. You get the picture.
At my house, we were just US. We were silly. We were serious. We read under the table. We read to the dog. We did fractions while hanging upside-down. We had fun. And along the way we learned from and about each other.
My memory has always been spotty; if you want to win at a game of “Concentration,” call me over! I don’t remember more than a handful of “my kids” from those years, but there is one I will never forget. Even though I don’t recall her name, I remember, clearly, that she was the purest form of joy and belief—wrapped up in human form—that I’ve ever encountered. Yes, by many people’s standards, she was a quirky little oddball. And, with all that she was, she was 100% lovely.
The first time I picked her up at the playground, I was greeted by a running, panting, giggling mass of copper and blonde curls and snarls; her mane of hair was so thick that many a comb had likely seen its last day. She was a wild, tangled, disheveled jumble of backpack and papers in a (seen-better-days) pink party dress, rainbow-striped tights and well-worn Moonboots.
Did I mention that it was August? How she wasn’t sweltering in that outfit, I have no idea!
And as she easily slipped her hand into mine for the walk home to my studio, my first thought was—she is so trusting; I need to protect this spirit. And so began our dance of breezy conversation of nonsense and fairy dust and clouds and what was for lunch and “so-and-so threw up in the hallway outside the gym!” And that was our first chat.
Wrapped up in that little 6-year-old body was delight and curiosity and belief—in and about everything imagined or unimaginable. She held it all and I was smitten by her whimsy and charm and magic and complete exuberance for everything. Her mother must have been exhausted!
As our days grew into weeks, which grew into months of being together, it was quite apparent that this little creature was completely incapable of sitting still—or just sitting. So we learned as we skipped or swung or rocked. She was a bundle of energy and intellect and I, for the nanosecond when I wasn’t answering a question, would look at her and imagine the thoughts upon thoughts and ideas upon questions speeding along the pathways of her brain, finding their way to storage or ping-ponging sideways to piggyback onto another query for us to ponder.
I am all things educational. But part of helping kids along is to take the time to just sit and chat. “How was your day? What was the best part? What was the worst? What did you learn in class? What did you learn at recess? How would you have made today a better day?”
And then you sit back and listen. And you let them share their voice, and you let them just be.
All day long in school, kids are told what to do, where to go, how to behave, what to focus on. When it was just the kids and me—we’d get to our assignments and our lessons and they’d learn and gain what was needed. But they also gained what they didn’t know they needed. We talked. We laughed. We giggled like crazy and we did it…a LOT…as we unwrapped the gift of knowledge along our path of study. And somewhere in all that we found…ourselves.
No topic was off-limits; no question was foolish, no thought pushed aside. If I didn’t know the answer, we’d look it up. Sometimes I’d have to defer to mom or dad (for sensitive issues). But, for the most part we were an exploration team and we went to infinity… and yes, beyond. We had a ball, those kids and me.
Early on in our sessions, I asked this sunshine sprite what she wanted to be when she grew up. And she responded that she wanted to be a pony. I knew she was old enough to know that she couldn’t really, truly, biologically morph into a pony any time soon—but the look on her face made me question if it would not somehow happen. She was so sure it was possible.
And as we went along in those months we would revisit the pony possibility and her positivity never wavered. According to her, it was going to happen. When she grew up she was going to be a pony.
A pony with a copper-colored mane—in Moonboots.
She and her family moved. I moved. We lost touch. But, from time to time, she comes to mind and I find myself smiling—and thinking of possibilities.
And so, as we slide into the end of the first month of this New Year, I want us to hold to that belief that is before us. The belief that anything is possible. We can be ourselves. We can believe in ourselves. We can do whatever and be whomever we want.
It’s a New Year, put some thought to it. Make it count. And then believe. And maybe one of us will become a pony.
Les McCarthy is an author, entrepreneur and IPPY bronze medalist for her yearly “Healthy Living ~ Healthy Life: 365 Days of Nutrition & Health for the Family” calendars. She’s been nearly 20 months on the island and in the NW and loves every gorgeous bit of it (especially the fog). She joyfully tends to her dwindling geriatric fur factory and looks forward to the return of the slugs and snails (and sunshine)!
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Lovely blog, really enjoyed it (and I always do)! I don’t expect you to remember me but we met last Memorial Day in the parking lot of the Veterinary Clinic in Langley. My husband and I had just arrived from Ohio for a week of exploring and we decided at the last minute to run the 5K PAWS run to get ‘localized” so to speak. You told us your story of how you came to be an islander and that you were from Chicago (I think!) You had a copy of Whidbey Life at your table and we bought one. We now look forward to receiving it here in Ohio. We visited the island again last September and had an absolutely gorgeous week falling deeper in love with the place. (It was our 4th trip). We hope to one day call Whidbey our home and become (like yourself) a transplant. Thank you for your part in helping us to keep this dream alive.
Ken and Lori Hess
Hi Lori – how nice of you to reach out to me! Hey – if you ever want more info PLEASE contact me thru the magazine at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to help you guys out! I have 19 months of island life under my belt now and have insights on all sorts of things! So – ask away!!!! 😉 Next time you’re in town, let me know if you’d like to meet for coffee. I know all the secret spots! 😉
All the best to you!
Well said, Les. I am glad you were there to just ‘be’ with your student and friend. It’s a rare gift to just be and you’ve got it.