By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. So much for taking my break.
“I knew it! I knew it!” exclaimed our boss who was the director of the preschool. She ran out, took time to yell at the tree and then ran back inside.
I walked back into our classroom and called out to my co-teacher, “Ms. Blythe, there is something you should come and see.”
“Should we all go?” she asked.
“Oh yes, this is amazing,” I said and our twelve students, all four years old, followed me to the tree with Ms. Blythe.
I took time to enjoy the spectacle while our children watched in amazement. The leaves looked like they were on fire, but I could still see the autumn colors so distinctly through the flames. Ms. Blythe took a leaf from a lower branch and it flickered in her hand.
“Does it hurt?” I asked.
“It’s warm and tingles. The colors are stunning,” she handed the leaf to me and I never wanted to keep an object more in my life. When I was little, I could remember seeing such beauty in nature like seashells and rocks but that seemed like such a long time ago.
Ms. Blythe and I started taking a few leaves off the tree, each flickering with the appearance of flames but held the feeling of leaves, leaves with energy.
We let the children explore the ones we took down.
Ms. Blythe looked at the children inquisitively and noticed something I saw seconds later. Little Fernanda had a different reaction than the others. It was an expression of familiarity. This tree was not as much of a mystery to her. Ms. Blythe sat on her knees with a leaf held lovingly in her hand, looked at Fernanda and asked, “Did you do this?”
“Sorry,” Fernanda said timidly.
Ms. Blythe softly responded, “You’re not in trouble. This is wonderful. Your skills will obey you in time. Always feel free to create.”
We stood there and basked in the glow of the leaves. I felt this energy of young joy, like the time when I believed that magic possible. I felt like I could create new worlds with just my mind. Why did I ever let these feelings go? I felt high.
An unintelligible scream came from upstairs. “Somebody is upset,” I said.
“Somebody is scared,” Ms. Blythe corrected.
We heard footsteps on the stairs.
“Time to be done,” Ms. Blythe said to the class. She placed her hand on the tree like she was reaching out to a beloved pet and the tree went back to normal.
Our boss stormed over to the tree, “Where is it?”
“Where is what?” Blythe asked.
She looked at me and I shrugged. Our boss stumbled over her words, looking at the tree in disbelief.
“I think it’s time for us to go inside,” Ms. Blythe said.
“Time to finish painting!” I cheered.
The children collectively cheered back, “Yay!” and went inside without a fuss.
They went back to their places at the table. I started cleaning a bit and went to Fernanda’s painting. The door opened and our boss confronted Ms. Blythe, “I know you had something to do with this.”
She stormed off before either of us could respond. I was thankful she left quickly. I did not want her to walk around our classroom and discover what I was holding.
Fernanda’s painting was beyond anything I have ever seen a child create. It shimmered. We don’t have paints that shimmer. It felt like I was looking at the tree through water, abstract and beautiful. I felt the same about this painting as I did with the leaf I held in my hand. I wanted it to be with me forever.
The next day, we started the morning with the same ritual that we had used for the past three months. We gathered on the circle time rug. It was the home of piles of pillows and tiny afghans which was different from other preschools that I had worked at. Every child was excited to start their day there.
We did a lot of things that were typical of circle times, songs and stories. The moment that was unlike anything I had ever done was teatime.
Every morning each child got their own mug which was the perfect size for his or her hands. The mugs were as unique as the children and the color combinations held a different mood for each mug. I knew each child’s mug which was weird since the colors seemed to evolve from day to day. I handed out the mugs to each child’s delight and they would hold them like they were about to have a conversation.
I poured water into each mug, our pretend tea and everyone, including Ms. Blythe would lean against a pillow, relax, drink, and prepare to plan the day.
“So, time to think about what we want to learn,” Ms. Blythe said, “Let’s breathe and think.”
The children imitated Ms. Blythe, breathing and sipping, then the energy of the room would pick up like waves on a beach and the ideas would ride in.
“I want to make a tall tower and have a princess climb it,” Anabelle said.
“She’s not in the tower?” I asked.
“No, she’s tough. She climbs in and out when she likes,” Anabelle responded.
“I want to build something with clay,” Adryel said.
“I want to build something with blocks,” William said.
“You can have some of my clay to hold your blocks together,” Adryel called out.
“I would like some shapes today,” Fernanda said.
“What do you want the shapes for?” Ms. Blythe asked.
“I think some shapes fit with other shapes. I want to try it,” Fernanda said.
“Ah, an experiment with shapes. That will be fun to watch,” Ms. Blythe answered.
Each child had a vision of an adventure, or a creation or a theory on how the world worked. It was all happening in our classroom and the plan always came after tea.
The morning ended with a tower being completed, a city out of blocks and playdough, a butterfly made of shapes, and a new type of car.
The car was the showstopper that day. It did not have the shimmer that yesterday’s fiery leaves had but it had a strong, inspired energy. It started during circle time when Harper said, “My dad was fixing his car. He showed me the engine. I want to learn to do what my dad does.”
I said, “That’s a big task.”
Ms. Blythe agreed with me, “Learning about cars is not something that you can do in just one day. We can talk to your dad and ask him to teach us the easy stuff first. Does that sound like a good plan?”
Harper nodded. Then Ms. Blythe continued, “Today, why don’t you see what you can remember? Try to make a toy car with some ideas that you already learned from your dad.”
Harper already had a plan in place. I could see that she shared the same look that Fernanda had yesterday of a connection to her project. It wasn’t something that she had to find, it was already a part of her, and she was letting it out.
Most of her car was made from a box and cardboard that she cut out but the part that made it inspired was the rubber bands she asked for. She was already figuring out how to make wheels move on their own. It was like she was born to do this.
Ms. Blythe was supportive and instructed Harper like it was completely normal that a child who was almost four was able to figure this out on her own. I watched Harper send the car across the floor and when I picked it up, it had the same energy as the leaves, warm and tingly.
The door opened and our boss came in to check student numbers. She saw the car in my hand. “Well, look at that. Who made this little project?” she asked and gestured for me to let her look at it. I handed it to her. A crackle came from the car and our boss screamed in pain as she dropped it. “What are you letting them do in this classroom?”
“We’re learning,” I said, still confused. The car didn’t hurt me at all.
Our boss scanned the room, “These! I bet these have something to do with it!” she pointed to the mugs.
“Those are for our teatime,” I chimed in. Ms. Blythe smiled at my defense.
“We have paper cups,” our boss said.
“Boring,” Ms. Blythe said.
“And not very convincing for teatime,” I added.
“I’ll figure it out and when I do, this room will be normal again,” she said.
“I can’t remember a time when normal sounded like such a sad word before now. The kids are learning and almost never fight. What else could she want?” I asked.
“She can tell something is different. Some people just don’t like different,” Ms. Blythe said. She paused and then looked at me. It was the first time I had ever seen her hesitant to ask me a question, “And you? How do you feel about different?”
“I don’t completely get what’s going on. I would like to learn more. I like how excited the children are about learning. I wouldn’t trade this for a classroom that is normal,” I said.
Blythe gave me a relieved smile which surprised me. I didn’t think she cared about what anybody thought.
“Would you like to get dinner later? I would like to know more about the history of the mugs,” I asked. Why did I ask that? We’ve only known each other for a few months, and we work together and why am I so drawn to her and everything that is going on?
“If we eat at my place, I can show you my studio where I paint them which is basically the smallest part of my apartment.”
“That sounds great,” I said.
What am I doing here? What am I doing here?
The door to Ms. Blythe’s apartment opened. “You’re here,” she sounded exuberant. At work she’s always so calm. She’s kind, sweet and happy with the children and especially calm.
“What do you have?” her face lit up and she was even more beautiful.
“I brought you an array of teas since every day we enjoy teatime.”
“Minus the tea,” she mused.
She gestured for me to come in and her home was the ideal expression of the person she was. There was the scent of curry as soon as I entered. It was comforting. She must have made us something special for dinner. She had soft chenille throws placed throughout the living room and inviting pillows in tranquil colors of forest green and amber accompanying each blanket. Artwork engulfed the walls of so many styles. They couldn’t all be hers. The name Blythe was clear and soft at the bottom of one piece, a painting of two people holding hands. The focus was mainly on the hands. They looked wrinkled and aged. Maybe they spent a lifetime together.
Ms. Blythe walked to the corner of the living room where there was a display of mugs. “My studio.”
“Hmm, it actually looks like the whole living room is your studio,” I said.
“Ah, yes, some of them are mine, but most of them are from former students,” she said.
“Were you an art teacher before the preschool?” I asked.
“There’s not just art in there,” she showed me around, “There are some pictures of former students winning awards for science and math. I have some copies of essays and stories written by some students. Here are a few photos of students that went into dancing. Ah, and here from one of my inventors,” she handed me a device. It had a fan on it. “It’s supposed to be outside in the wind. Blow on it to make the fan move.” I blew on it and the handle glowed showing that it was a wind powered light.
She looked at me quite pleased, waiting for a response.
“I’m so confused,” was all I could manage.
“You already know that the mugs are a lot more special than just for circle time tea times. When I was little, I wanted to be made of magic. I felt like it could be possible not that it was just something from fairy tales. I tried so hard and I managed to achieve one spell.
At first, I was so sad. This is it? I can’t fly, can’t disappear, can’t move objects with my mind.”
“One spell is so much more than anyone else that I know has achieved,” I said, “But don’t you feel bad manipulating children?”
“Did it look like I was manipulating them?” she asked.
“Most children don’t act like that though,” I said.
“True. What did you see them doing?” she asked.
“They were doing what interested them. They were learning about things they wanted to do. That was all them?” I asked.
“Most people don’t know what they want or they listen to other people telling them what they want. It takes them forever to figure out what they are truly meant to do and some people never figure it out. So what is the spell in the mugs?” she asked me.
I thought about it. Everything I saw and everything that I’ve wanted lately.
“It’s clarity,” I said, “The one spell that you have is that you are able to help people see clearly what they want.”
She took a deep breath and smiled.
“I want,” I started and then hesitated.
“I know. I could tell when you held Fernanda’s painting,” she said, “Children are safe. They are already planning their lives. Seeing clearly what they are meant to be never hurts. They can just follow it. However, being an adult, drinking from a mug might bring on some regrets.”
“I’d rather know. I can work on my future. I know I can’t change my past,” I said.
“Okay, go to the mugs. You’ll know which one is yours,” she said.
She was right. As soon as I stood in front of them and concentrated, I felt energy coming from a mug with light blue and deep purple splashes. When I lifted the mug, my name was underneath, not only proving that I was right but also proving that she knew I would check.
Ms. Blythe motioned me to relax on the couch and she poured water into my mug. “Water?” I asked.
“Why break with tradition,” she joked.
Her expression became serious but also compassionate, “If you don’t like what you’ve learned, I promise to help you through it. Now take a deep breath, relax, and drink.”
I did as she instructed, and I drank and
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