A few days ago, I noticed one of my students was having a rough day. Usually, this is a friend who plays well with others and stays connected with every wonderful happening that comes along. That day, however, something was different.
As the student walked in with his sad eyes and droopy arms, tears welled up and poured over his cheeks. My heart broke and I desperately wanted to find a way to turn his day around.
I decided to observe him as he interacted with his friends and teachers. Over the years, I have learned that children are like icebergs. We see the tiny tip of the iceberg peeking up out of the water, but so much of who they are is inside, or underneath the surface.
Time out for a quick trivia question: What percentage of an iceberg can be seen above the surface of the water? Answer: Usually less than ten percent!
It’s important for me as the director of Center Stage to continually interact with my students. I get a different perspective when I stand back and observe all of their interactions with classmates and teachers. I decided to bring him into my office so we could speak together. One of the most important aspects of my responsibilities is to create a safe space in my office. Going to Ms. Heather’s office gives us all a chance to breathe, reset, and have conversations that matter.
“How can I help you today?” I asked. “You don’t look like yourself and I want to hear you and help you.”
With tears streaming down his face and clenched fists, he squeaked out, “Mommy is gone for 1078 million days!!!” He threw himself into my arms as he continued to cry.
I know this family well, and this student’s mom had let me know she would be gone on a two day work trip. His dad and grandmother would be home to hold down the fort. But to this little boy, it wasn’t just a short work trip with family still at home to take care of him. He was facing 1078 million days away from his mommy.
It was time to put on my scuba gear and get to the bottom of this iceberg. Stopping my day to spend extra time with my friend and help turn his day around was now more important than anything else on my list of things to do.
I got out my trusty desktop calendar (I can’t do iPhone organizers very well. I still have a recurring Tuesday doctor’s appointment that I can’t figure out how to cancel. Yes, this is indeed a cry for technical help).
Using my desktop calendar, I went over the days of the week with my friend and asked, “What’s today?+
“Tuesday,” he said slowly.
“Right! Today is Tuesday!” I said, stepping up my enthusiasm. “Now, help me count out two days from today.”
Together, we counted, “Today is Tuesday, then Wednesday, and then Thursday.”
After we landed on the Thursday space on the calendar, I said, “Guess what?!”
His eyes were clearing up from tears at this point and in a much clearer voice than earlier, he asked, “What?”
“Your mommy told me she would be gone for just two days. Not 1078 million days! That’s only two sleeps!”
A smile began to sneak across his face and I took the opportunity to keep it spreading. “Is someone special visiting you while Mommy is away?” I asked.
“Yes” he said, unable to hide his excitement. Suddenly the tip of this iceberg was starting to look a lot different. “Mimi is here and she is making us cookies!!!”
His smile caused my smile to get even bigger. “Wellll,” I said. “That is super-duper special!” Now that we had a brand new understanding of time dimension and total world peace, I explained, “It’s absolutely okay to miss your mommy. She misses you too. Missing people just means we love them.” I watched his face change even more as this settled in. “Do you know what might help Mommy and you have a fabulous rest of your day?” I asked.
My little friend looked at me with hope in his eyes and asked, “What?”
With as much enthusiasm as I could pull from every part of my heart and mind, I said, “You having fun with your friends and learning as much as you can today! That way you can tell Mommy all about your day when she FaceTimes with you tonight!”
As my friend finished his day exploring, learning, and having fun, I smiled as I anticipated the many stories and adventures awaiting me at Center Stage over the next 1078 million days.