As the stay-at-home father of a young sibling-less child I knew it would be healthy for us to get out into the world to interact with other people, and one of our first regular forays was to a play program called Gymboree. Once a week we would go to a place full of various age-appropriate large motor equipment (slides, small climbers, balancers, balls, etc.) then take part in a circle time hosted by a woman whose name I’ve forgotten, but whose energy and enthusiasm were legendary. Josephine looked forward to it each week.
Here’s the problem: I was an adult man, possessing whatever dignity that suggests, and there was a tacit expectation that I would stand up in front of all these adult women and dance to ridiculous chants like, “Wishy washy, wishy washy, wishy washy weeeeeee!” It just took me one session, however, to figure out that if I didn’t participate, Josephine wouldn’t either, so I focused my eyes on our ball-of-fire leader and threw up my arms and wiggled my butt with the best of them.
This would have been hard enough had I been doing it in front of friends, or even a group of unknown men, but somehow making a fool of myself in front of these strange women intimidated me. It was the right thing to do, and it was the first time I experienced the phenomenon of how our children lead us to become better people: it was for my child that I was overcoming my lifelong fear of looking foolish in public.
During my first year as a teacher in our little cooperative preschool, I found that I still couldn’t make eye-contact with the other adults as I lead songs and dances at Circle Time, so I developed a laser-like focus on the kids. It shouldn’t have surprised me when my mid-year evaluations came back with comments like, “Great with the children. A little distant with the parents.”
A decade later, I can now break out into silly songs and dances any time, anywhere – often to the great horror of my now 12-year-old, who inadvertently lead me to this point. Heck, my alter-ego Captain Superhugger is all about goofing off in the middle of the street in front of tens of thousands of strangers. I’ve come a long way.
At Woodland Park, we expect the parents to join in at Circle Time as well, but it isn’t a tacit expectation, it’s overt. And as far as I’ve traveled in my journey toward being an unself-conscious public goof, I try to stay sympathetic to the adults in the room just starting down this path. My focus doesn’t stay exclusively on the children any more, and sometimes when my eyes land on one of these brave adult creatures it can choke me up right there in the middle of singing “Jump Jim Joe” or “Mother Goony Bird,” a pair of songs that can strip any adult of his robes of grown-up dignity in a matter of seconds, leaving him to face the world in nothing but his foolish underwear.
Occasionally, one of the children will notice the catch in my voice, or the small surge of moisture in my eyes, and ask, “What’s the matter, Teacher Tom?”
I’m thinking, Look how brave we can be for our children, and I answer, “I’m just so happy.”