The Surprising Thing I learned from Teaching a Preschool Class

Today was my first day as a school substitute (or as my son used to call them, Sub and Toots). I was nervous but when I got a call to sub for a preschool assistant, I decided to take it. I was anxious about my first day but I figured I’d just do whatever the lead teacher told me to do and I would be ok. And I was ok. Technically speaking, It all went very smoothly.

We played games, read books, played outside and had snack. All very normal. However, while I was there something weird was going on inside me. I was hit with a surprising heaviness I hadn’t felt before. It happened during nap time. Fifteen little bodies sprawled in various positions on the floor, their blankets clutched tightly in their fists. I stood in the darkness and watched one particular little dude curled on his side just so, his middle and ring finger stuck comfortingly in his mouth. While I watched him sleep I was suddenly socked in the stomach by a sadness so sharp that I nearly burst into tears.

I missed so much, I thought to myself as I scanned the room around me. My children will never be this size again. They will never lie asleep on a mat, sucking on fingers and being so little and so in love. They have grown past that, though my youngest, at six, is still very much in love with me. But as I played games with these little people I was swallowed up by the guilt that I felt because I so rarely got to enjoy playtime with my own children. I always let “busy” get in the way of that.

Busy. Such a horrible, exhausting and soul killing word.

I’m so sick of busy. When my children were preschool age I was so busy just trying to survive, working full-time and being the primary caretaker of the children, that I didn’t often stop to enjoy them. I was too busy. Busy cleaning, editing photos, fielding work phone calls, trying to fit writing in or, if I was lucky, sleeping. I rushed my children through their young childhood and I flew by those little moments without really reveling in the joy of them.

It is often said that you can’t get time back, that children grow up so fast and one day you will look back and wish you had those years again. I cried bullshit about that. I thought when I reached that time in my life it would mean freedom to me, a chance to be responsible only to myself. But today I realized I was wrong. They were all right. You were all right. I can’t get it back.

I’m lucky. My children are still relatively young. They all continue to enjoy a good cuddle, even the sixth grader. I can fix this, stop the frivolous passage of life in its tracks and replace it with purposeful passing of time. I can be purposeful in enjoying watching my children grow each day, and I plan to do so. I will be deliberate in doing so. I will put down busy, (and let’s face it, sometimes busy is really just Facebook) and I will get down on the floor and just play. Play with purpose. Because they deserve that and I deserve that. Dishes can wait, childhood cannot.

So I send this appeal out to you. Still go about your life rushing around, being tired and too busy. Continue managing your children through their extra-curricular activities and contrived social lives, it is unlikely in this world those things will ever change. But try to slow down and cherish the moments you can before they pass. Gather them up like the last summer flowers and hold them to your breast, because soon the snow will fall and you will forget what the color green looks like. All you will have will be the photos to remind you. So please, look for the little joys in the every day. Even if they are small and fleeting, revel in them. Because soon you’ll be vying for their attention on Instagram with little concern for their embarrassment. And that is just sad.

Me a few years ago NOT enjoying amoment

Originally published at jacqueburke.com on October 15, 2015.

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