When my son Max was four he went to pre-school at a small private school in Boulder, Colorado, the school was nestled in the outskirts of town with a playground that enjoyed a full view of the Flatiron Mountains. It was there that I learned what remains one of the best pieces of parenting wisdom from his then teacher, Mrs. Magowan.
She was as black as coal with a voice rich like honey and her way with the children was so beautiful that the smallest of gesture could bring tears to my eyes. Her kindness toward my son was for me as important as the oxygen I breathed. That was the year his dad and I split up for the second and final time in his short life.
Max and I were both in transition. I, in my newly single mother status, had returned to work and he, in his dual house living environment, probably felt much like a rubber doll, pulled by each arm and in danger of splitting in two.
In the beginning leaving the house for school was a chore—Max often would forestall the imminent separation by absorbing himself in everything but dressing. And I, in all my new job importance, would race around much like a drill sergeant barking orders and hollow disciplinary warnings.
It was temporarily awful.
By the time we packed ourselves into the car we would be exhausted and more times than not our emotions would ride with us for the short few miles to school. As I remember it, my inner critic would perch herself on my shoulder and vociferously list the ways I was failing my son. Max for his part would stare out the window as if willing himself to be anywhere but in his car seat in a car with his working mother. By the time we pulled into the circle to say goodbye, like clockwork my sweet boy would begin to cry begging me not to leave. Battling my own tears of frustration over our new work/life situation, I would park, and escort him to his classroom.
It was one of these mornings that Mrs. Magowan saved us.
As soon as we crossed the threshold into her room, she noticed the mood we blew in with, pure defeat. While placing her hand on his back she raised a finger from her free hand as if to say—hold on, let me get him settled and then—let’s talk.
I watched as she took a knee, my breath near to bursting against my lungs, willing myself not to cry.
First she whispered, his eyes previously trained on the floor lifted and met her gaze, his shoulders stood up, then, much like the sun breaking over the horizon, a smile spread across his tear stained face. She took him in, nodded and for a moment stayed there as if pausing to let his new mood settle over him. Then she pointed and his eyes followed her fingers direction to a basket containing blocks across the room. With a brush stroke of love across his back he was gone, scampering toward something he could build, thoughts of being left dissolved.
She stood—and there in all my unkempt rawness I uttered these words:
“How do you do it Mrs. Magowan, you are so patient, you repeat yourself over and over again day in and day out and I have never heard you as much as raise your voice.”
She took my hand in hers, offering me a steady long look, her dark eyes providing pools of kindness I could dive into.
“Oh yes. Here is the thing dear, I never know the first time a child is going to hear me—so I ask myself, what do I want them to hear?”
You never know the first time a child will hear you—so what do you want them to hear?
“You are brilliant, truly and indisputably, brilliant.” I told her with a squeeze of her hand.
I vaguely remember her giving me some reassurance that letting go of the inadequacy I was steeped in was well within my power, such sage advice.
Twenty two years have passed since that morning, I have shared Mrs. Magowans wisdom with countless others—I only wish I knew where she was so I could thank her for anchoring me in the constant quest for patience and a desire to have the words my children hear be filled with love: what a gift.
Note: I was inspired to share this story about Mrs. Magowan after reading the equally heart breaking and poignant piece on Babble, written by Samantha Ettus, called, Overheard at Disneyland. In it she shares her observations while resting on a bench at Disneyland, sadly she is in a sea of anger–anger that is doled out onto the psyches of children. If only every parent had a Mrs. Magowan in their life. Children learn what they live and we owe it to them to be raised with the best we have to offer.