Friday, March 31, 2023

Waiting For Life To Happen

In John Lennon's song "Beautiful Boy," he sings the line, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." He may have come up with it all on his own, but 20 years prior, the cartoonist Allen Saunders similarly wrote, "Life is what happens while we're making other plans." And indeed, one can go back and find other epigrams expressing the same idea, perhaps not phrased quite so pithily, going all the way back to the Buddha. 

When I consider my decades of schooling, I really do see that there was an underlying and pervasive sense of waiting for life to happen. Maybe not so much during my early years, but certainly by the time people started warning me about my "permanent record," it felt as if my primary job was to make plans for life. I got increasingly serious about the question, What do you want to be when you grow up? I began to take classes, read books, and engage in extracurricular activities that I hoped would provide me knowledge or skills I would need, not now, but in the future. Sure, I got my kicks in between the preparation and planning, but at bottom, the adults around me made it clear that life had not yet really begun. Life was always in the offing.

After all, my grades, the compensation for which I labored in school, were objectively meaningless without the prospect of the life that lay ahead. People assured me that I owed it to myself to forego joys and adventures in order to prepare for life, that would, if I did it right, be comprised of proper joys and adventures. Not to mention money: earning enough money to live on was the was to be the sign that life had truly begun. It certainly didn't begin when I walked out of that final exam in my final year of university singing "I'm Free." It would begin once I had that first job that afforded me that first apartment.

The problem was that even once I had successfully replaced grades with money, I can see that the 20 years of waiting had become a habit. My job had replaced school as the place where I waited, planning for the next job and then the next. Life itself was the thing that happened on evenings, weekends, and holidays. Work was where I waited, planning . . . for something.

I'm not the only one who learned the habit of waiting and planning instead of living. What if school was something more than a waiting room for life? 

That's certainly how the preschoolers I teach approach it. They come to play, to actually live life itself, right now, as it presents itself. It was as I watched our daughter play with her friends that I came to understand that all that waiting and planning was standing between me and a life of deep and personal meaning. She focused, like a laser, not on counting or reading or memorizing, and definitely not on planning and waiting, but rather on creating relationships; messy, fraught, and joyful relationships. She came home in tears. She came home in ecstasy. She was living.

Play-based preschool is where life itself takes place. It's tragic how many of our youngest citizens are robbed of life itself as they are compelled, even as young as two and three, to learn the school-ish lessons of waiting and planning, and of putting life off into the future.


"Teacher Tom, our caped hero of all things righteous in the early childhood world, inspires us to be heroic in our own work with young children, and reminds us that it is the children who are the heroes of the story as they embark on adventures of discovery, wonder, democracy, and play." ~Rusty Keeler
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