In third grade Nikolai had the best teacher. Don’t get me wrong, he had amazing teachers his whole school career; however, one teacher always stood out to me and this was his third-grade teacher, Mrs. Breen.
This was the one year of elementary school that I remember as being his most joyous. While he still had to get the work done, Mrs. Breen wasn’t the teacher that scolded him, made him feel bad for not doing his work, or held him back from recess (which he so desperately needed to burn off his energy). She softly redirected him, used wit and sarcasm with him, and tried to always make tasks a game. I know he was a handful and we talked frequently about challenges. However, his third-grade year was the year he smiled most. This was the year he thrived in school the most.
One particular class project they worked on was called “I Am Great.” The kids colored or painted those words in the middle of the page and then each child’s page was passed around to the other kids in the class to write something positive about that child.
Last week I was sifting through Nikolai’s box of treasures, as I like to call it. Each one of my boys has a box filled with all the things I want to save forever and ever – their first baby shoes, baptism gowns, homemade blankets, report cards, pictures they colored, Mother’s Day cards handmade with love and on the rare occasion, a meaningful assignment from one of their classes. It was through this sifting through his box looking for something else entirely, that I came across this “I Am Great” assignment.
I started reading all of the comments and I laughed and cried. Comments about how nice he was, what a good friend he was, how good he was at athletics, reading and coloring. Yet it was Mrs. Breen’s note that jolted me: “You are a super athlete with an amazing passion for life.”
“An amazing passion for life.”
This was Nikolai summed up in one sentence. The BEST sentence. And as a parent who struggled with this child constantly, I wish I had focused more on that one sentence. As a parent, I focused so much on what he didn’t do or did wrong and forgot to look at him as a person, as a friend, someone who was kind and joyful and who had a zest for life that few others had.
Chalk this up with the other millions of mistakes I made with my kids. Raising kids without an instruction manual is just hard.
Yet it got me thinking… why don’t we all have an “I Am Great” assignment posted somewhere where we can see it all the time? What if instead of looking at all of our flaws, we took time to realize all the great things about ourselves and each other? What if we looked at kids like Nikolai and instead of seeing a kid who can’t focus on a single thing and is crazy impulsive, we saw a child who had “an amazing passion for life”? It’s all perspective and perhaps it’s time to change that view for one that shows the light in someone, not the darkness.
Nikolai ended that school year with a “worm-off” with Mrs. Breen. If you have never heard of the worm, just google “Worm Dance Move” and you can watch hundreds of YouTube videos of it. This final moment of third grade was talked about his whole life as one of his greatest shining achievements, as he is convinced he beat her! After Nikolai died, Mrs. Breen messaged me the video of the “worm-off” that another parent had captured. I will forever keep this video and watch it when I need to be reminded that life is full of joy if only we choose to look for it.