Nature’s wonders never cease to amaze me; people are included in my generalization. We are all so unique, each as different as every snowflake, flower and drop of rain. These differences are what make me love working with kids: each one requires a special key to open heart and mind.
Like a locksmith, I’m patiently, slowly yet resolutely, trying to find the distinctive and remarkable key pattern that may help to unlock a particular student’s door. Tommy is one of my students who holds a very special place in my heart. There is something so kind and sweet about him. It’s hard to articulate, it’s more of an energy that just seems to emanate from Tommy. He’s proven to have a more intricate lock than many of his peers here at Green Chimneys, but this makes me even more keen on figuring out just how to reach this precious child.
Tommy surprised me this past week with a simple observation. We were making Tub Tea (similar to bath bombs) and had just finished the project. Before I knew it, Tommy found a piece of scrap paper and began to make his own fill-in-the-blank story featuring Sponge Bob characters. While I was impressed that Tommy was using his free moments so constructively (not to mention amused – it was a funny story), I wanted this time in the greenhouse focused on ideas with a horticultural bent. Am I plant-obsessed? Maybe!
That’s when I asked Tommy to check out some of our current plant experiments. He immediately honed in on the leafless cane-like stem of the Madagascar dragon tree. When I saw him checking it out I asked him what he thought. His melodic voice surprised me when he said, “It looks so sad and lonely.” I hadn’t expected his personification of the plant, he’s usually so concrete in his thinking. (Tommy’s exceptional capacity includes amazing mathematical abilities paired with a unique sense of humor.) Tommy’s response caught my attention and forced me to look at the plant from a new perspective. I had only considered the plant from a botanical point of view: when would it push out some new growth, if at all?
When I took a mental step back and considered the stalk from an emotional stand point, he was right. The plant did look sad and somewhat lonely, a leafless stem with its crown of leaves abruptly removed for propagation purposes. But then I recalled a moment from the day before with another student, Zach. A few weeks prior, we had worked together topping the overly tall and somewhat spindly Dragon Tree. Zach’s the one that noticed, almost two weeks later, the almost imperceptible nodes beginning to swell towards the top of the seemingly lifeless cane.
Excitedly, I showed Tommy what Zach showed me the day prior; I pointed out the areas of the stem where it looked like new growth was starting and asked Tommy to consider the plant as hopeful, rather than sad. I showed him how just below the surface of the bark-like covering life seemed to be brewing. It put a genuine smile on his face, and luckily I caught it with my camera!
It was an interesting juxtaposition to look at this seemingly lifeless plant part yet be able to see the possibility of life in it. Being a teacher at Green Chimneys often grants me the wonder of seeing infinite potential in children who have struggled to share their gifts in other settings. Tommy reminded me how important it can be to look at a situation from more than one perspective and with more than one mind set. Because just when you think you have things figured out, nature (and sometimes a child) has an uncanny ability to turn everything on its head and show you a whole different world.