Rediscovering Child Mind

Author’s Note: In honor of “back to school” week, I’m reprising a post I published several years ago. I wish everyone involved with education–parents, students, teachers, administrators–a great return to the classroom this week!

“Let the children come to me, for it is to such as these belongs the kingdom of God”

The month of August in the Pramuk household, as I expect in many others, brings both joy and dread. Joy because the kids are finally back in school, and dread because the kids are finally back in school.

Packed afternoons of shuttling from school to home to practice and back to school again, slogging through math pages with grumpy-hungry kids, tending to the pot on the stove and a cantankerous four year old while slogging through math pages with grumpy-hungry kids, etc, etc. You get the picture.

It’s also the time of year when Papa – that’s me – begins to disappear ever more deeply into his over-stuffed head, his dreaded laptop, and large stacks of papers piled in a corner of the dining room from whence they beckon his conscience and cry out for attention like fingernails scraping across a chalkboard.

Mom: “Where’s Papa?”

Kids: “He’s asleep under the table with an open grade book next to his face and a string of drool hanging from his mouth to the floor.”

Mom: “Somebody kick him and tell him to put Henry to bed.”

Ah, yes, it all begins in August ….

And yet…there are hints and rumors of joy, glimmers of possibility and great wonder in the collective rediscovery of child mind.

My kids are alive with excitement: new teachers, old and new friends, new uniforms the next size larger and new pencils perfectly sharpened with bulging unblemished erasers. And I am coming alive too, in a different way, turning outward beyond the circle of family (of what is intimate and “familiar”) toward an imagined but not yet realized horizon of open possibilities.

The campus is stirring with new students. Once again I find myself lying awake at night rehearsing syllabi speeches and pondering which doorways I most want to open in the first minutes of the first day of a brand new class. You get one chance to make a first impression – to stir the receptive (and skeptical) heart.

But that’s not quite true.

What my kids and yes even my college students keep reminding me is this: The child mind is ever open, ever resilient, ever forgiving, and ever alert to the person – even the grownup, the teacher, the dreaded professor – who shows up ready to “come out and play.” What makes a good teacher is perhaps not so different from the good parent or trusted friend: fully present, open and responsive, somehow both focused and free. I wish I could find that place of presence and balance more often.

Yes, the pot is boiling on the stove, Henry is tugging at my pants with a bulging load in his, and the girls are about to chuck their math books across the table at each other . . . but hints of discovery, surprise, and possibility break through in the midst of it all.

Even the stack of papers in the corner holds a thousand secrets, a hidden song, when I am able to be fully present to their pages. What I discover in my students always both surprises me and resounds with familiarity, the glimpse of unseen possibilities and beautiful desires in a new generation, now unfolding in their life stories.

….when I am able to be fully present to them.

May God give us the grace and fearlessness to rediscover our child mind – and to help awaken it once again, or for the very first time, in others.

A fourth grade rite of passage: show and tell! Isaiah with his Great Grandpa Doherty’s pocket watch. And alas, a very fast five years later, on pilgrimage last spring with his dad in Taos, New Mexico…

Hiking Tent Rocks National Monument
With Fr. Bill McNichols,
a dear friend of child mind

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