Years ago, when Chloe, then an only child, was three-years-old, I was home alone with her on a Saturday night. Melinda was out with a friend and I was reveling in the “alone-time” that Chloe and I were having. We made and had dinner together, and might have even watched a little TV while eating.
Decadent, I know.
After dinner, as her bedtime approached, Chloe was sitting at a little desk we had given her with a number of art supplies. Some crayons, tape, construction paper, and a pair of those little plastic scissors that only sorta-kinda work but are unlikely to cut a finger.
She was fully involved in her project, maybe at some deep level recognizing that if she engaged with me I would put a stop to it and insist she go to bed. I was definitely thinking that way but was simultaneously entertaining a conflicting thought to just let her be, mesmerized as I was by her depth of concentration and engagement. I swear the experience altered my brain chemistry and put me in a sort of meditative state.
So instead of putting her to bed, I reached for a pen and paper and found the words for a poem:
The Antique Pony, Chocolate Soup, and Staying Up Late
Saturday night sunset.
The moon comes up, big, orange, and bright,
casting shadows not from itself but as a reflection.
You sit undisturbed,
absorbed in the undiluted concentration of being 3.
Colored paper meeting scissors, manipulated by tiny hands.
Bedtime comes and goes and I ponder…
Do we tell time or does time tell us?
The antique pony reference is for a rocking horse we had in the house, and chocolate soup is the pudding Chloe and I had for dessert before it had fully thickened.
Chloe graduated from college in 2015 and as a graduation gift, I presented to her the poem in a frame, enhanced with drawings created for the occasion by my artist friend, Fish Astronaut (and who, as you likely know, illustrates my kindness writings).
That’s a copy of it to the left, obviously.
So much of parenting is an exercise in patience and attention. There is probably another version of me that stopped Chloe that night from her art project, anxious to get to watch a hockey game on TV in Melinda’s absence.
I think children have a lot of wisdom to share if we adults take the time to notice.
“True generosity is guided by awareness.” — Piero Ferrucci
I come from a family of “collectors.” For me, my main collection was hockey cards. You know, those rectangular pieces of cardboard that used to get packaged with a piece of gum and sold at the counters of grocery stores and drugstores? Baseball cards are much better known but, me, I collected hockey. Over many years I collected so many cards that I had amassed an impressive collection. About the time my oldest daughter was born, I sold them and made enough money for the down payment on a house.
Crazy, I know.
I also collected record albums, specializing in music from the ’70s in England, specifically what was known as “pub rock.” Elvis Costello emerged from this scene, undoubtedly the best-known musician from the time. But I also appreciated those lesser-known, which included Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Graham Parker, and Ian Dury. I’d buy records that any of these musicians contributed to, which during my senior year in high school included an American three-piece rockabilly band that was gaining some notoriety in England, a band called the Stray Cats (yes, the same band that became famous around 1983 in the US — remember “Rock This Town?” – see the video below). Dave Edmunds produced their first record and it was fantastic, I thought. I found the import-only release at my favorite record store in 1981 and played it regularly.
Once I had kids, my vinyl LPs started fading into the background. They often skipped with the bouncing around of small children and my taste in music didn’t match that of preschoolers. Besides, CDs were all the rage and you could put 5 discs in a player, put it on random, and have a decent mix that would last 4 or 5 hours. No having to flip over an LP every 20–30 minutes. Bye-bye vinyl.
Years ago, I started looking through my records again and found that first Stray Cats record. I actually went hunting for it after hearing a student of mine, a high schooler, reference the band at the school I directed. Knowing that he was getting into vinyl, I thought it would make a fun gift for him. I found it and gave it to him, having that great experience of giving something to somebody that meant so much to the recipient.
In this experience, I gave up something that I valued. Just looking at the album, even the label, evoked memories I hadn’t considered in years. I got nostalgic and started thinking how much the album might be worth on eBay. But I realized that any monetary value it had could not compare with the experience I’d get in giving it to my student.
I think this gets at the best birthday and holiday gifts, at least those that touch me the most. Several years ago I taught a class on the book “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The book moves me to tears every time I read it. This time, my daughter, Ella, was in the class and I read it aloud to her at home. When we got to the end, when it becomes clear that Boo Radley had saved Scout and Jem, I could hardly read for how choked up I was. When Scout realizes what has happened and sees Boo in the corner of her house, saying, “Hey, Boo,” I’m all done. Tears, the whole bit. It’s a brilliant moment in the book, the coming of age moment of a young girl.
For my holiday gift from her that year, Ella had a T-shirt printed for me with nothing but the words, “Hey Boo.” It was such a thoughtful gift, so much recognizing of who I am and what is meaningful to me, that I lost it again. Tears, indeed. That it came from my daughter after having read her the book made it all the more significant.
In the book “The Power of Kindness”, Piero Ferrucci writes, “True generosity is guided by awareness.” I like to think I had an awareness of something that would be meaningful to the student all those years ago when I gave him that record album. Clearly, Ella had that awareness regarding me when she gave me that T-shirt. As Ferrucci says, generosity of this sort transforms us.
I learned yesterday that Sir Ken Robinson, a person who served as a huge source of inspiration for me as an educator, had died on Friday after having recently been diagnosed with cancer. Sir Ken came into my life through his TED Talk, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?,” that to this day I think is the most widely watched TED Talk ever. He summed up so much of my educational philosophy in his 20-minute presentation, doing so with humor and poignancy, that when people asked what I thought about schools, I often suggested they simply watch his talk.
Several years ago, I had the honor of having dinner with Sir Ken when he was passing through Seattle on a book tour. We hit it off enough for him to give me his cell phone number, and soon thereafter he interviewed me for a book he was writing. I recommended him to be a keynote speaker at the annual Alternative Education Resource Organization (AERO) conference, me serving as an advisory board member to AERO. He delivered another amazing address.
I actually didn’t know he was in town on the day we had dinner and the unfolding of how we met was a lesson in itself of following one’s inner voice and saying yes to opportunities. The next day I sat down to write about how the whole day had unfolded, later posting the story on my Facebook page. As a tribute to Sir Ken, I present that reflection here.
Thanks, Sir Ken. You will be missed and you will be remembered.
I had a magical experience on Thursday this week, one that I nearly missed. The end result was me sitting in a Seattle restaurant next to Sir Ken Robinson, he of the famous TED Talk on how schools are squelching creativity in children, he and I chatting as casually as if we were close friends. I walked him to the elevator of the hotel where he was staying, whereupon he handed me his business card, having indicated he’d like to learn more about PSCS. Now how did my evening end like this instead of me having just a typical Thursday, watching episodes of “The Office” and “30 Rock?”
Many of you know Steve, one of my co-workers at PSCS. Late Thursday morning, Steve learned from a couple of people that Sir Ken was right then being interviewed in the studio of a Seattle radio station. Surprised that he hadn’t known Sir Ken was in town, Steve discovered that Sir Ken was speaking at an intimate gathering in Seattle that night and that the coordinating host for the event was a former PSCS parent. Informing me of this, my first reaction was, I’m embarrassed to admit, this inner dialogue:
“But I really was looking forward to a quiet night at home. I mean, what chance am I going to have to actually meet Sir Ken? And even if I go to the event, which costs $50, I already am quite familiar with his message, as significant and important as it is. I doubt I’ll learn anything new.”
Not a lot of magic in that point of view.
Still, given that I did know the coordinator of the event and she might be able to swing an introduction, I decided to see if tickets were still available. I went online and found that ticket sales were closed so, considering the event was restricted to 100 people, I assumed the event was sold out.
“There,” I said to myself, “I’ve done my due diligence. Clearly, tickets are no longer available. That’s my message. I’m not intended to go. Now what’s the plot on 30 Rock?”
Still not a lot of magic in that attitude.
Several minutes passed and I’m busy at my desk, responding to email, chatting with students, a typical Thursday morning. But my thoughts kept returning to, “Sir Ken Robinson is in Seattle tonight. I know the person who is coordinating the event. Am I really more interested in television programs?” I decided to call to see if tickets were still available. I found the number for Kim Ricketts Book Events, the company hosting Sir Ken, Kim being the former PSCS parent. I called and a person answers, “Kim Ricketts Book Events, Kim speaking.” I stammer, “Kim, Kim Ricketts, you’re answering your own phone on a day you bring Sir Ken Robinson to town?”
It turns out her receptionist had stepped away from the phone for a split second (a bathroom break, perhaps?) so Kim just happened to pick it up. And after I said who I was, it was mere seconds before both Melinda, my wife, and I were on the guest list and Kim had promised to introduce Sir Ken to us.
A lot of magic is flowing now. I mean if Kim had not answered, I doubt the receptionist would have put me through to her, especially on such a busy day. And if I hadn’t talked to Kim myself, we would not have been put on the guest list, nor would Kim and I have reconnected, chatting a good 10 minutes about our families.
Anyway, to make a long story short, Kim was good to her word and introduced Melinda and me to Sir Ken before the event. He even referenced PSCS in his talk. And then Kim orchestrated it for me to be sitting next to him in a fancy Seattle restaurant for two hours, talking casually and about PSCS. And it was from the restaurant that we walked to the hotel elevator.
I still don’t know what happened on “The Office” or “30 Rock.”
Mindfulness = Magic.
PS – I woke up on Friday morning and told Melinda, “I just had the craziest dream. Last night you & I were sitting in a fancy Seattle restaurant with Sir Ken Robinson, the three of us sipping drinks and eating sushi.” Melinda said, “Weird. I had the same dream.”