Saturday, March 27, 2010

"More later, Owain"

Last summer I was writing about the challenges and importance of teaching the preschool rule You Can't Say You Can't Play, and shared this story:
. . . a group of older kids were using our loft as a superhero hideout. It was a noisy, exciting game involving ropes. It attracted a steady stream of younger children to check out the action. Owain took up a position at the top of the first flight of stairs. As newcomers arrived, he would block their way and ask, “Are you a good guy or a bad guy?” Most answered, “Good guy,” and were ushered into the designated part of the loft. The few who answered, “Bad guy,” were shown to another part of the loft.

My initial impulse was to put an end to this game that involved blocking the stairs, but after a moment’s reflection I realized Owain was following the You Can’t Say You Can’t Play rule to the letter, including the corollary. An established game was in progress. Newcomers were not being excluded. On the contrary they were being offered a choice of appropriate roles in the game.

I stood watching as everyone who approached was included. As the loft filled up with good guys and bad guys, everyone looked satisfied. A few minutes later an adult stepped in and broke up the game, but I still recall it as a shining moment, one I hope is recreated throughout the children’s lives.

This anecdote is Owain in a nutshell. He's a guy with ideas around which to organize others. He was a preschooler confident in his super powers who has grown into a 4th grader whose intellectual curiosity and ability to share his passions draws others to him. The fact that he could understand the complexities of a classroom rule like this, internalize it, and put it into practice with both authority and empathy remains one of the most amazing things I've ever seen in our classroom. And while he always strived to be a force for good within our rules, he had the confidence to speak out when he saw the rules applied unfairly. Everything he did, he did boldly, powerfully, and with the courage of his convictions.

I was lucky enough to catch glimpses of him in action even after he graduated from Woodland Park by virtue of his visits to the classroom with his younger brother, and I've managed to stay in touch with his family through the wonders of social networking. He is in training for the 50-mile Livestrong bicycle ride fundraiser to fight cancer. I can say that today Owain continues to be that same bold, powerful, intelligent, and courageous boy he was as a preschooler. I can't wait to know him as a man and be witness to the good he'll do in the world.

Yesterday, we learned that he's been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytice Leukemia. I haven't been able to completely stop crying, but they aren't just tears of sorrow. They are also tears of pride for the fight he is going to fight. I've been imagining him in the "real" air force flight suit he used to wear to class, and the capes, and the Transformer costume. And, of course, I'm thinking of his incredible family and the power of their love for one another. "Owain's Army" is a mighty fighting force, and make no mistake, he is our leader.

I'm not sure where the lines of privacy are on this right now so I'll stop short of broadcasting direct contact information, links, etc., but if you want me to pass on any words of encouragement, leave them in the comments. If you know Owain's family and have lost touch, please email me and I'll get you hooked up.

If you want to do something more, Owain's father Alex writes on their CaringBridge page, ". . . please consider becoming a blood donor. Owain will almost certainly have a transfusion tomorrow. This is possible because healthy people donate blood. This saves lives. The marrow donor registry thing is also very cool. I didn't know about it, but will sign up now that I do."

And this is Owain's message from yesterday:

Owain here. My back is hurting, but other than that I am fine. The doctors did something I called sleepy test again today. It is where they put a milky fluid through your IV, which makes you fall asleep. Then they stick a couple of needles in ya. That's what happened to me today. Today was for chemotherapy, but the first time was to test for leukemia. More later, Owain.

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Mindy Lehrman Cameron said...

Tom, Our 12 year old friend Louisa has been diagnosed with a similar cancer, AML, and has been in treatment for about three months. Caring bridge is fabulous for the family, the patient, and everyone who reads it and uses it. I am staying in touch, mostly thanks to her father who writes an entry into the journal every night. I think that this helps him too. Treatment is not an easy path but, for Louisa, it seems to be working. The days when she has chemo are very hard. The rest is not as hard. There is some pain and certainly fear, but also joy, maybe even altogether more powerful joy than usual. In Louisa's case, her friends and family are really THERE for her in so many ways. That is beautiful. If Owain is in Children's, he is in the BEST care. I hope that Owain's friends and family are there for him, I wish them all strength, send my (well, what can I say, I don't know him but my heart goes out to him, so...) love, and I wish Owain (and Louisa) the best and fastest recovery. Thank you for your posting. Mindy

Unknown said...

I wish all the best for your friend Owain, as he begins his new superhero battle. It sounds like he has a lot of support, especially with you as his cheerleader~ that should really make a difference! I'll keep all of you in my prayers.

Play for Life said...

Perhaps you came into Owain's young life Tom so you could encourage his super hero ways, in order to better prepare him to fight this super sized battle in his life. Our thoughts are with you and Owain and his family ... please let them know we care.

From Seattle to Melbourne to Seattle... may a new 'circle of inspiration' begin!

Teacher Tom said...

What an incredible thought, S&D, although in fairness, my main contribution was to not squelch it. Owain came to me like that!

Play for Life said...

Exactly Tom, anyone else and he may have been squelched ... but he wasn't! ... You see!

Michelle said...

Wow this is not where I was expecting that post to go.

My son is not the Owain of the classroom. In fact, he's the one who is a good guy and then gets upset when other people who said they were good guys decide they were bad guys after all and it ruins his playtime.

Oh my heart goes out to Owain. I can't imagine how he and his family are feeling, but what a nightmare. I wish I had something to say, but do let him know I'm a donor - and unfortunately I'm too close to my last donation to go again for a few weeks, but I'm 0- and a neo-natal donor, so I'll be helping some children younger than him.

Deborah Stewart said...

I have tears in my eyes after reading this post. I read your latest post before reading this one and so I was completely caught off guard. I am so sorry for the pain that something like this has on a family and others. Send this young man my love please and let him know I am thinking of him as he fights the battle of his life.

A Magical Childhood said...

Oh, I'm so sorry for Owain and all of you who love him. He sounds like a fabulous boy.

We lost one of our favorite children in the universe to ALL 3 years ago this month. We still miss her and she'll always be a part of our lives.

I'm crying many tears right now for Owain, for our beloved Hannah and everybody touched by childhood cancer.

Please keep us updated on him. He sounds like a strong kid surrounded by love, which I'm sure will help him through this time.


mel said...

prayers for owain and his family. he already sounds like a remarkable young man!

Anonymous said...

My families thoughts and prayers go out to Owain and his family. May his fight be fierce and swift.

Scott said...

My prayers are with Owain and his entire community. It's amazing that the characteristics you see in a preschooler carry through as they get older.

Daniela said...

Dear Tom,
I'm an Italian pre-school teacher in northern Italy, I'm 51 years old and my name is Daniela. I read your blog very often, because it's very stimulating and I like very much what you think,how you teach and educate your children: we are very similar in that...
I read your article about Owain...I don't know if what I'm going to write will have bad or good reactions from you or your readers, but I'll try anyway...

I don't know what you think about alternative healings methods, but I know a very easy one called EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) created by Gary Craig, that can help anyone to deal with emotions and illnesses, especially negative ones.
Children can learn it VERY easly and it can be used in any emotional,every day, situation related to school, home, parents, siblings, fears, etc.
An EFT practitioner called Deborah Miller works with children with cancer in an Hospital in Mexico to help them to deal with all the emotions involved in those very aneasy situations. There is a very touching video about her experience with children on youtube.
I give you the websites where to look for this technique (it's like acupuncture, but you use your fingertips instead of needles):
Gary Craig:
Deborah Miller:

I hope I've been usefull...and I hope Owain will fell better soon, I like him vary much, even though I don't know him.
CIAO to everyone