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What Teaching Preschool Is Teaching Me

Today was a very normal day in preschool: lots of kids, typical arguments, laughter, lunches, and learning.  But today I came away from work just a little bit wiser.  Actually, this is happening a lot more frequently -- I find myself working and then thinking about the bigger picture of life.  I often ponder why in the world God wants me at this preschool right now.  I dream about different directions my life could go.  I look at job boards, but nothing stands out.  It's an odd spot to be in, but today was a bit of an ice-breaker.

It started on the playground, where most good preschool stories start.  (If you're my Facebook friend, you've likely read the myriad of hilarious things kids say, most of which happen on the playground.)  One of the girls approached me and asked me in moderately broken english to put her hair back into "tails."  She put her pointer fingers on her head almost like horns or antlers and I understood: pigtails!  We giggled and I worked on her pigtails.  Her hair is not the type that easily works into an up-do so I knew these "tails" would look tacky at best to me, but it's what she wanted, so I pressed on.

When I told her they were done, she felt the top of her head and found the 4-inch pigtails shooting straight into the air.  A look of surprise came over her face and she asked me politely, "Teacher, where's mirror?"  I told her I didn't have one, but let her use the glass screen of my phone as one.  The grin on her face was beyond priceless.  She turned her head a few times, looked at me and said, "Good. I go play."  She ran off, straight for the monkey bars, one hand still feeling her new hair-do.

And then I started thinking... One part of me absolutely celebrates the joy and confidence that this girl has because of her new hair-do.  She got something she wanted and felt good enough about it to show off a bit.  I often think about all the talents and gifts that every single person has on planet earth and wonder to what capacity are we exercising them?  What would the world look like if we all had reason, confidence, and resources enough to run to our own monkey bars and show off what we're made to do?  What if the world stopped expecting people to do things they're not meant to do, like expecting fish to climb trees or cats to read a book?

For most of the past year, I've felt like preschool is definitely not my "monkey bars."  I can't even do the monkey bars!  I could make you a laundry list of reasons I feel not qualified for the job I'm currently working, but somehow, here I am-- 11 months into a job I wasn't sure would last and LOVING it.  I still giggle when people ask me what I do for a living, because it's still comical to me that somedays, I make a living saying ridiculous things like, "Don't eat the paint!" or "Don't eat your boogers, we're going in for snack!" and "Keep your body/hands/legs/lips to yourself!"  This is not to say that teaching kids is easy or in any way meaningless -- in fact, it's one of the most difficult and meaningful jobs to be done and the experts are showing, the preschool age is critical for educational success.  This is where the other half of my thoughts kick in.

While one part of me celebrates a kid finding joy today, I'll be honest: another part of me today was wondering if it was even ethically "okay" to let her keep the pigtails in when I knew there's a good chance she'll get made fun of because her hair doesn't look or act like most other kids at preschool.  I was afraid she would experience what I experienced as a kid: being different and being made to feel "wrong" because your hair is different (in my case, it's red) than your peers' and you were brave enough to copy the cool kids just to try to fit in.  I was nervous for her.

And then, the thought came to me: this must be a fraction of what God thinks when we make plans for our lives.  We ask God for everything the world tells us we need (metaphorical pigtails, yeah?): a 9-5 job with benefits, no debt, money in the bank, a spouse, kids, a dog, house, car, and cabin.  The years after college feel a little bit like my student probably felt today.  You look around and notice that "everyone" has all this stuff and I don't. Somehow, it doesn't matter what I DO have, but it matters that the possessions of those around me are "cool", and I am therefore deficient.  So, I speak for myself when I say, eleven months ago, I dragged myself over to God and asked for "tails" in a panic, not really knowing what I wanted, but knowing that anything He could give me was WAY better than feeling awkward on the playground of life.

But my landing this job last year must have been God's way of saying, "You realize these pigtails just aren't going to look good, right?"  Life has thrown me more than a few curveballs (sick parent, living abroad for two years, college transfers, etc.) that make the idealistic American Dream almost impossible for me.  Yet, He gave me what I wanted, or at least the start of it.  My hours right now literally are almost exactly 9-5!  And now, I'm starting to realize He's right.  Today was a way of God holding up His mirror to me.  I'll admit, life makes me look a little bit goofy right now -- I've never really been a pigtails girl, but it's not forever, which is what makes me smile.

What's important to me now is not looking in the mirror to find someone society says is keeping it all together or "cool," but that I'm using the right mirror in the first place.  God is the one who made me, who gave me these life circumstances and who holds all my tomorrows.  He is my Rock, my provider, and my hope.  I work hard, but I cannot control what happens in the world.  I can only work towards wisdom and pray for what I cannot change.  My reaction needs to be the same as my student's today regardless of how life looks: "It's good.  I go play."  But really, I think there's a day coming where God will remind me, like I should've probably said today, that the most important job you have is to be the best you possible.  I should've told her, "I like your hair just as it is.  Go be you because you are something pretty great, with or without pigtails."

Be the person God made you to be, and He'll show you your monkey bars.  Maybe mine look more like a preschool than I thought.  Or maybe, this is just one rung of the ladder to something so much bigger than I could ever dream of accomplishing with my own styles and choices.  I don't know.  A mirror never tells the future.  It simply reflects the beauty of the present as long as you're willing to see it.

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