Friday, December 20, 2013

Paradise Has Come A Day Early

I love being a preschool teacher and I especially love my unique circumstance here at Woodland Park. I love all our supportive families and their incredible kids. When things are challenging or upsetting or otherwise hard, it only takes a few moments of reflection to bring me to the recognition that despite everything, I cannot imagine myself doing anything other than being this teacher at this time in this place. We've grown to fit one another quite well over the past decade or so, the school, the children and their families shaping me, as I've shaped them. I will never find a better thing to do with my time and I hope I never have to. I sometimes say my final lesson for the children will be the day I keel over during circle time.

That said, I'm a little ashamed to admit that I look forward to our school breaks, especially the extended ones like the two weeks we'll be closed for the December holidays. As the line from Manfred Mann's Earth Band goes, "Life passes slowly just this side of paradise," and that's how it's felt these past couple of days. I don't think I've delivered less as a teacher, but I have done a bit of clock watching and, man, the time has passed slowly even if "paradise" in this case is just sleeping in for a couple weeks.

Most days, time at school passes in a flash. Often I'm only aware that the end of the day is approaching because parents are arriving to pick up their kids. Hours feel like minutes. That's how time passes when you're living in the moment, which is the place young children always take you if you follow them rather than insisting upon leading. As I stand behind the closed door each day at 4 o'clock, the children and their parents on the outside, that's when I have the luxury of feeling tiredness as my brain is suddenly relieved to travel back over the long day and all that we've done, a day that seemed to have passed almost before it began.

But these last couple of days have not been like that. I won't say that they've dragged, because that suggests an impatience on my part, but the clocks have seemed to have conspired to move with a definite syrupy-ness. I guess that means I've been standing a little outside of the flow of the play, anticipating paradise at least unconsciously. 

In Thomas Mann's greatest novel, The Magic Mountain, he writes about this phenomenon of how time is not the consistent, universal thing we tend to think it is, but rather something that is shaped by the orientation of those experiencing it. When one lives life "horizontally" (reflectively, disengaged, in repose), for instance, the time may seem long as you live it, passing slowly, yet when you look back, you see a largely empty blur of sameness that, in fact, passed in flash. When, on the other hand, you live "vertically" (active, engaged, moving forward) the time passes in a flash as you live it, yet seems impossibly rich, full and long in retrospect. A full life, then, is one lived in balance between the two.

Most of my life as a teacher is of the vertical nature, but I seem to have slipped into a horizontal posture these past couple of day, perhaps beginning the break a little early. It's been an interesting experience to live this way amidst the children who are remaining vertical right up until the very end, active, engaged, moving forward. On Wednesday, as I paced our outdoor classroom as a kind of outsider, I took in the scene in a way I don't normally see it. My slow motion impression of time created a sense that the world was standing still and for a moment I was aware that time and space, as physicists tell us, are in fact the same thing. I was awed by all that I saw happening in that moment of pure horizontality: the whole world was happening. Everywhere I looked I saw children engaging their world with their full beings, negotiating, racing, leaping, painting, building, shouting, pretending, swinging, laughing, crying, reflecting, hating, loving, feeling.

And there amidst it all, I spotted Audrey, lying flat on her back in the wood chips, eyes closed, fully horizontal. She sat up slowly, opening her eyes, still barely moving. She was watching the world as I watched her. Other children came up to her, but whatever she said to them caused them to move on. Finally, I decided to join her in this place where time eddied. I sat down beside her without saying a word. She said, "I'm a spy. If I stay really still no one will notice me and I can watch everyone."

I said, "I'll be a spy too."

It seemed like we were there for a long, long time, but when she returned to the vertical world, a check of the clock told me that only a few minutes had passed. And yet so much had happened and continued to happen. I've never been more aware of how much we play in our short time together, cramming every minute with everything. It passes in a flash and it stands as still as the sun on the solstice.

This morning, Friday morning, we've awoken to enough snowfall that schools are closed. Paradise has come a day early.

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1 comment:

Papa Green Bean said...

Being a spy sure is fun.