She Gave Her Child Complete Presence

The mother's heart is the child's schoolroom.

—Henry Ward Beecher

Most teachers would admit that there are some students whom they'll never forget. Six-year-old Ricky Anderson was one of those students I still think of fondly years after he left my class. In fact, this child is so special that I can remember the exact moment when I first laid eyes on him.

It was the first day of school in my second year of teaching. My classroom was at the end of a short hallway, and that's where I stood waiting to greet my first-graders. I spotted Ricky the moment he stepped off the bus. (Actually, it would have been impossible to miss him.) The first reason was that he was one of those "just plain adorable" six-year-olds: he had bright red hair, twinkling blue eyes, a round tummy, and an impish little face that was sprinkled with just the right amount of freckles across his nose. You couldn't help smiling when you saw him—he was that cute. He looked just like Opie from the old Andy Griffith Show. The second reason was that he was making such a racket. While the other students walked to their classrooms, Ricky skipped. (In fact, he always skipped—it seemed to be his preferred mode of mobility.) And all the while he barreled down the hall, he was singing Mr. Rogers's theme song at the top of his lungs (you know: "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood . . . ," though he seemed to know only the first line, so he repeated it over and over and over). He was a bundle of energy and just bursting with excitement.

He screeched to a halt when he arrived at my door and recognized that this was to be his first-grade classroom. He flashed me a big grin, then stuck his head inside to check things out. Both the room and I must have passed inspection, because he turned and exclaimed quite matter-of-factly, "This is going to be the best year of my whole life." He then added excitedly, "This year I'm going to learn to read!"

Well, I was smitten. Frankly I adored him, and I was struck not only by his enthusiasm but also by his confidence. That's because learning to read wasn't going to be easy for Ricky. I was a special education teacher, and Ricky was enrolled in my classroom because of severe learning disabilities and attention deficits. It was difficult for him to remain focused on almost anything for more than a few minutes—on some days even a few seconds was a challenge. In fact, of all the special education students I'd taught, Ricky's attention span was the shortest.

A few weeks into the school year, I found Ricky at the art center busily cutting out dozens of small paper hearts. (It was Halloween time, so I was a bit concerned that he was working on the wrong holiday symbol.) But I saw a kid who was obviously trying his hardest to make something very special turn out just right. He struggled to attach stickers to the cut-out shapes and painstakingly added crayon scribbles to his project. This was tedious stuff for any young child, but especially for a little boy who had such a hard time concentrating.

"That's lovely, Ricky," I told him, then asked curiously, "Who's it for?"

"It's for my mom," he explained proudly.

"Is it her birthday?"

"Nope!" he said while shaking his head from side to side, clearly elated that I was noticing his efforts.

"Well, what's the special occasion?"

It has been over two decades, but to this day I can still remember his exact words. He looked up, smiled, then explained in a whisper: "I'm making my mom a card because she always makes my feelings feel so good."

He smiled and then turned back to finish what he had started: a special card for his mother, whom he so obviously cherished.

Well, I couldn't wait to meet this mother. As far as I was concerned, this lady walked on water when it came to parenting. She was doing something very right to instill such confidence and joy in her child (besides making his feelings "feel so good"). I had to see just what she did to create such adoration in her child, and the sooner the better. My opportunity came the following week.

I scheduled a class field trip and needed a parent volunteer to help out. Ricky's mom was the first person I asked, and she agreed. On the day of the trip, she walked into my classroom, and within seconds I knew exactly what this mother did to make her son's feelings feel so good. It wasn't anything difficult or even mysterious. It was really quite simple and certainly nothing new.

Actually, Ricky spotted his mom before she found him. He'd been anxiously waiting for her by the door, and as soon as this kid saw her he ran straight into her arms. He was so eager to tell her about his class. I must admit, my room was a bit chaotic at the time, with boys running around, someone accidentally knocking over the library cart, and a box of papers crashing to the floor. It was also terrifically noisy, with constant chattering, laughing, and squeals of excitement. But in the midst of all that, this wonderful mom began to use her "little secret" that made her child feel so good.

Now please don't get the wrong idea about what happened: you might be thinking this was a sophisticated and lengthy process. Actually, it was far from it. In fact, their entire encounter was probably no more than two minutes—max. But during that time nothing mattered to that mom except what her child had to say. I watched in fascination, and here's what happened.

Mrs. Anderson walked in and immediately got down on her knees. She settled on the floor with Ricky and looked straight ahead at him, with her eyes riveted to his and her hands gently on his shoulders so that they were in close physical contact. She sat. She smiled. She listened. She obviously had a wonderful knack for being able to block everything out except Ricky (or at least for making her kid feel that only he mattered).

As I watched the two of them in their own little world, Ricky talked—and his mom listened—but the key is that she was listening with such genuine interest in what he was saying that all the noise and action around them seemed to fade away. Occasionally she'd respond with a simple "Uh huh," or "Really?" or just describe his feelings. ("You seem so happy"; "That must have made you proud.") But the effect it had on her child was profound: Ricky's whole being just blossomed.

The mother's "magic" was really very straightforward: she focused intently on only her son and gave him her complete presence when he talked. And because she did, Ricky knew just how much he mattered in her eyes. It was such an easy concept and almost effortless to use, but it produced very powerful results. Mrs. Anderson spent the rest of the day with our class helping everywhere and everyone on our field trip. She was a delight—always pleasant, always smiling, but often focusing only on her son and giving him her full and total presence. But there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that this was what she did to make her son feel that his mom "always made his feelings feel so good." It's a secret we can all learn and use with our children.

0 0

Post a comment