Here's something they don't tell you when you're interviewing for a preschool teacher position: There are gifts involved. Lots of gifts.
The day before winter break, all of my little angels showed up at school with packages. I just about fell over when they kept coming at me, one after the other, shoving boxes and envelopes at me.."HERE MISS JENNY THIS IS FOR YOU!!!". I went home with a grocery bag full of goodies and the kids sat around me as we opened them up, one by one. Candy and coffee gift cards and Target cards and candy and did I mention candy? Each one elicited an excited "OOooh!" from me, and of course you know my sappy ass got all teary eyed.
And so I thought to myself, "This job is awesome." Because really, it is. What other job is there that allows you to play for hours every day? What other job is there where you get to hear kids say the darndest things:
While making a glittery heart necklace for Valentines Day: "Miss Jenny this is a sparkly situation!"
Overheard conversation between two boys: "You can't marry your mom. It has to be your sister."
Doing an art project involving wine corks: "My mommy has MILLIONS of these!!! She loves wine!!"
These kids make me laugh so much, give love so generously and are such amazing little mood enhancers, that getting gifts from them is like someone giving you a million dollars wrapped in platinum. To say it blew me away is an understatement.
So I thought the windfall at Christmas was incredible. And then, Valentine's Day arrived.
Normally a day that doesn't mean a whole lot to me. Even when I was married, it wasn't a huge deal. In fact, I tried really hard to remember a noteable Valentine's Day I spent with Big Daddy, and came up with nada. I do remember a nice Valentine's dinner with an old boyfriend, but that's about it. So I'm not overly sentimental about it.
Once again, I was dumbfounded when a parade of 3 and 4 year olds walked into the classroom clutching little envelopes with giant preschool handwriting on the front: MIsS JEnNY i LvE YuO
Even my embittered hardened heart softened.
And then, while I was supervising the crowd of elementary school kids in the lunchroom (Tuesdays and Thursdays are my "3 Jobs" day...I teach the three and four year olds in the morning, supervise the K-6 kids for two hours in the afternoon and then step in and assist the pre-K group for the last three hours of the day), one of my pre-K kids and his mama walked into the very loud, and very crowded cafeteria. Mom had a plate of food, and a flower. "We wanted to make sure you got this, Jenny" she shouted to me. I shouted back, "Thank you!" and then I looked at the potted plant in her hand.
It was a gorgeous hydrangea. I tried to be all funny and tough but I couldn't stop the tears from welling up in my eyes. I couldn't help it when my voice cracked and I tried to camoflauge my weepiness by bending over and asking her sweet little boy for a hug.
Hydrangeas and me..we go way back. They have a special spot in my heart, and it wasn't until that moment, standing in an elementary school cafeteria accepting a gift of a potted hydrangea that I allowed myself to think about them and why they mean so much to me.
A lifetime ago I lived in a little house. I was married and I had four kids and one of the things I loved to do most was putter around the yard while my babies played in the warm spring/summer sun. Over the years, I planted dozens of things: hostas, phlox, ferns, sedum, every butterfly-attracting plant under the sun...and hydrangeas.
I loved my hydrangeas. There was one spot, next to my front door, that was just perfect for a big hydrangea bush. Every spring I planted one there, and at the end of every summer I cursed the location when it died. And then, at the end of one summer, I had a survivor. This little plant had thrived where others had withered and expired. The tiny plant that I had lovingly patted down into the earth grew, and over the next few years it blossomed into a gorgeous, leafy lovely that gifted us with huge, fragrant globes of flowers every summer. The delicate scent of the petals would greet me when I walked out the door in the mornings, and when we arrived home in the evenings. I'd clip a few bouquets and set the vase on the table in our dining room, in our bedroom.
That plant made me happy. And as my life changed, it was a reminder of survival and of resilience.
When I had to leave that house, it wasn't the old oak floors or the arched doorways I mourned. It wasn't the paved patio or the ancient wooden swingset in the backyard that caused my heart so much pain. It was the memories, of course.
The memories, and my plants. In particular, the beautiful hydrangea by the front door. Last spring, when I worked up the courage to drive by the "old" house, I took note of the greenery: the hostas lining the driveway, the blue spruce we planted over the ashes of our beloved cat Bonkers, the five tiny lilac bushes I planted that were now tall, stately ladies adorned with purple and white corsages. And my hydrangea.
There she was, the survivor next to the front door. The one who thrived where others had wilted. I said a silent thank you to the new owner of my old house, for keeping that plant alive. For keeping it where it belongs.
I haven't planted anything new at this house, the rental we escaped to. I brought a few of my hostas with us, a bunch of lilies and a peony. But I haven't planted anything new. Perhaps I'm terrified to put down roots, literally. Maybe it's laziness. Most likely it's because this doesn't feel like home to me.
But thanks to a preschool mom, and a little potted hydrangea, this spring will be different.
There's a spot next to my front door, you see...a spot that would look just right with a hydrangea in full bloom.