Maddie was a kid who could concentrate. From the time I met her as a two-year-old, she showed an amazing capacity to block out the entire world to focus on the self-assigned task at hand. You could stand over her saying her name, but she simply didn't hear you, so all-encompassing was her focus on, say, the puzzle in front of her or the flow of paint across her page.
Her classmate Cyrus was the opposite. When he was two, both hands were always full, which meant that he always had to drop something in order to grasp the new apple of his eye. He would walk through the classroom, leaving a trail of abandoned objects behind him, often collecting an entourage of other children as he went. I sometimes thought of him as a kind of swimmer or climber, moving through life stroke-by-stroke or handhold to handhold.
The parents of both Maddie and Cyrus worried about their respective children, not because their tendencies were a problem for a two-year-old, but because of what those tendencies might foretell about their futures. Fortunately, they were in our cooperative school, which meant they spent time each week in the classroom with all the children working with them as assistant teachers. Maddie's mother envied Cyrus' "outgoingness" while Cyrus' mother envied Maddie's ability to stay on task. The two women became close friends as parents often do in a cooperative school, bonding over their children.
I often found them huddled together in the classroom or on the playground, shoulder-to-shoulder, their eyes on the children, while discussing them. Sometimes they included me, although I had very little to contribute as these women shaped one another.
"Look at Cyrus," Maddie's mother would say, "He's right in the middle of things. I wish Maddie would do more of that."
"Well, look at Maddie," Cyrus' mom would answer, "She's been working on that painting all morning. I don't think Cyrus has spent more than 30 seconds at the art table this entire week."
I often found Maddie's mother playing with Cyrus, often showing him motes to contemplate or engaging with him in projects, like puzzles, that involved several steps. Likewise, Cyrus' mom would go out of her way to invite Maddie into this or that game or activity.
One day, I heard Maddie's mom joke that her daughter only came to school to play with "Cyrus' mommy." Likewise, Cyrus's mom felt that "Maddie's mommy" was her son's best friend.
Over the course of their three years in preschool, I rarely saw Maddie and Cyrus play with one another. Indeed, Maddie was always prone to getting lost in her own activities, while Cyrus tended to be at the center of whatever promised the most action, but I know they spent a lot of time together both after school and on weekends as their parents' friendship continued to blossom.
The children continued to blossom as well. But what was most beautiful to me was how the two women learned, through one another, how to stop worrying so much about their children, not because of anything their children did, but because they had taught one another to see their own children through the perspective of one another.
This what we mean when we quote the old African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child." And it's why I find myself adding, "It takes a child to raise a village."
"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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