I get to pick my first grader up from school most days. It's one of the very best benefits of working from home. I like to get there early. I don't know why, I am sure there is some deep-rooted psychological explanation behind it, but I cannot stand the idea of her coming out of those gates in a sea of school children and not seeing me there, waiting for her with open arms.
But that's not the point of this story. Since I'm always there a few minutes early, I am lucky enough to see the kids in the special education classes come out first. It has become one of my favorite moments of the day -- the genuine joy and excitement they get from coming out to their waiting parents, the amazing dedication their teachers show to caring for them and ensuring they are perfectly comfortable in that often overwhelming flurry of running bodies, the anticipation in their parents' eyes as they await them and a thorough report on the day, hoping, as we all do, that it was a good one. Every day, I stand back and watch and admire both the kids and the caretakers who show them so much love and in some way, it makes me feel better about the world we live in and the education system and motherhood and childhood.
The other day, one of the teachers was standing with a young boy who was looking around in a bit of a panic. His eyes searched the parking lot nervously, his hands were fidgeting with his backpack and his mouth was turned down ever so slightly in a frown that he kept trying to control, to no avail.
"What's the matter?" the teacher asked him, concerned.
"I don't see my dad," he replied, the slight crack in his voice bringing his fears to life. His eyes began searching more desperately. Up and down the sidewalk, into the parking lot, behind him where the school was about to let out dozens of swarming, loud kids. His hands got a little more restless. I stood by silently and watched. I imagine that this little boy's dad, like me, never wants to be late for pick up. He never wants his son to come out of those gates and look around and not see him waiting there for him.
The teacher, in a calming, warm voice, said: "Big deal or little problem?"
He thought about it for a second. His eyes focused squarely on hers. His hands relaxed motionless by his sides.
He fell quiet. Calm.
"Little problem," he replied. "Little problem," he repeated to himself.
"Little problem," she assured him with a smile.
Moments later, his face broke into a giant, toothy grin. Dad was there. Just a few minutes late. The boy ran into his father's waiting arms, the teacher gave him the progress report for the day, and the two walked hand-in-hand to their waiting car, never glancing back.
What felt like such a big deal to this boy became a little problem once he thought about it, shifted his mindset, and put it into perspective. He just needed a little reminder that sometimes in life, things that seem like a big deal aren't anything more than a little problem. And in that moment, he and his teacher taught me a lesson that I needed to learn about evaluating life's little hiccups and thinking before reacting to the hurdles that may come my way.
And that, my friends, was a very big deal.
Turns out you can still learn some very important things on the schoolyard... even when it's far behind you.