by guest blogger Erica Hunt
Writing, reading, tying her shoes, ice-skating. These are among the many skills our daughter says she learned from Ms. Her, the preschool teacher who changed her life.
The validity of her claims is less important than the fact that she makes them at all. The year our now ten-year-old spent with her first teacher broadened her horizons in remarkable ways. That whole year of preschool, we listened around the dinner table as she described yet another skill or talent Ms. Her helped to uncover. She was enamored by the young teacher who was smart and warm and excited about learning.
Although my husband and I didn’t get to know Ms. Her personally that year, we are glad that she was part of the community that shaped our daughter’s early years. She is among dozens that have populated the proverbial “village” of adults who have significantly influenced our kids.
We were fortunate to have a daycare provider who taught them the importance of rest for their brains and bodies by the way she approached daily nap time. They have grandparents, aunts, and uncles who have taught them how to actively participate in a family in ways that honor the group while respecting individual members. Their piano teacher models patience and perseverance. Our neighbors have taught them to not be scared of people who are different and how to share. Church and youth group volunteers have modeled joy and commitment. Family friends have helped them learn how to converse with adults and have communicated that, even as kids, our girls have a voice that is worth being heard and their opinion matters.
My husband and I try to teach and model all of these things, but we can’t possibly capture the breadth of these values and skills on our own. We’ve encouraged the girls throughout their childhoods to watch and listen to these other adults, noticing and integrating into their own lives things they find beautiful or good. We’ve admitted that, despite our efforts, we will miss things and be limited by our perspective. Pay attention, girls! There is more out there than we can show you!
Still, it isn’t always easy to see someone else connect with my child more effectively or meaningfully than I can. It’s humbling and grounding. My husband recently asked one of our other daughters who she wanted to be like when she grew up. Not what she wanted to do, but who she wanted to be. I was impressed by his question because it doesn’t get asked of us enough. We are not defined by what we do, but by who we are. I loved that he reinforced that message by the wording of his question.
I would love to say that she identified me, her dedicated mother, as her role model and source of inspiration.
She instead identified two of my closest friends, saying her ideal scenario would be to grow up to become a combination of them. I can guess what she is drawn to in them and I agree that they are incredible women worthy of her aspirations.
Yet I have to admit that it stung a little that she didn’t think of me. I know she loves me and appreciates things about me. She wrote in a recent birthday card, “You’re the best mom a girl could ask for!” It was sweet, and I believe her message was sincere.
But she sees qualities in other women that inspire her.
She sees qualities that compel her to want to be someone who makes a difference in the lives of others and is fun to be around. She sees how and who they love and that they love so generously. She sees their intelligence, creativity, and sense of adventure. She has experienced their hospitality and feels safe around them.
This is what I imagine she sees, at least. I didn’t ask her directly, but this is a good guess because it is what I see in them. They inspire me, too!
So, I take a deep breath and tell myself to not feel threatened by these other amazing women in my child’s life. It’s a step towards living out a stated value of inviting our community into our parenting. I believe our girls will be better for it, and I will cheer them on as they notice qualities in people besides their dad and I.
So, Ms. Her, while we both know you didn’t teach our daughter how to ice-skate, you did teach her that school could be fun and she belonged in your classroom. That’s something we couldn’t have done. Thank you!