Life Lessons From My Pint-Sized Teachers

The Client Letter
May 24, 2013
The Northland
Sunny 39 Degrees

My wife planned on being an oboe player with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra in NYC. She attended Juilliard Pre-College and then the Eastman School of Music and was well on her way. She planned on living in a nice apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I planned on being a church organist playing in some beautiful church somewhere that wanted nothing but the highest level of musical offering for their members. I played in competitions, I went to the best schools and was well on my way too.

Had our life ended up as we planned, our teachers from college probably would have considered us both successful. But apparently, our learning wasn’t quite complete after spending almost 20 years in school.

And so more teachers came into our life. One at a time they showed up. Each with many, many lessons to teach. In the next few moments, I’m going to share some of them with you. They are good lessons. They are universal lessons. And most importantly, they are lessons about things that actually matter.

Somehow, someone, with far more foresight and wisdom than I, thought otherwise about our life plan (thank you). And so here I sit, at my kitchen counter, waiting for my six kids to wake up and come flying down the stairs looking for breakfast.

My teachers are just about ready to begin another day of my education.

Lessons from the Classroom without Walls

My teachers have a very unique teaching style. While most teachers have lessons they want to teach, my teachers only offer the lessons I need to learn. You could say I’m enrolled in a custom tailored program made for a classroom of one.

My oldest teacher is here to teach me kindness. But she is wise enough to understand that the most effective way to teach is not to tell but to show. And so she is kind… almost without limit.

She shows me that, when in doubt, be kind. Not because you should, but because you can.

My oldest son is extremely patient with his lesson. I have to admit, we’ve been working on the same one for quite some time. I’ll eventually get it, but so far progress has been slow. And so he wakes up each and every day with the same focus: to show me that talk is cheap. You don’t tell someone you love them, you show them. This requires an investment of time and focus. Without that, all you have is talk.

And that brings me to the truly little ones. The ones whose lights are so bright the lessons are too obvious to miss. I tend to be a bit quicker about learning their lessons. At least for right now.

From the one with freckles, I’ve been working on developing the ability to let my true self shine despite my surroundings. In a nutshell, she’s trying to show me that if I’m not willing to be me, then I’m not willing to truly live the life I’ve been given.

My young son has been doing his best to show his student that life is a game you play. “Never forget that you are playing a game,” he says to me day after day. You may choose to enjoy the game or complain about the game, but you are always playing.

Admittedly, I forget this lesson all of the time. I’m fortunate that he is willing to remind me so often.

And finally, from the two youngest teachers, I am faced with very simple and very powerful lessons.

From my youngest daughter, the lesson that being sweet and gentle despite your size is a true gift when offered freely to another. And from the baby, whose wise eyes outshine his young body, a very profound lesson: “If you cannot find enjoyment in the little things, you will never find enjoyment in the big things.”

My teachers give me every chance not to screw things up. And when I do, they are still there, without judgement, ready to repeat the lesson again.

How My Teachers Deal With “Challenging” Students

My teachers have a rather unique way of dealing with “challenging” students such as myself. Perhaps the label “challenging” is a bit harsh, but what else can you call a student that, when presented with the same lesson many, many times simply can’t quite get it right?

(It didn’t occur to me until now, but given the number of “teachers” I’ve been sent, perhaps I’m in the remedial program? Could very well be.)

Faced with a challenging student such as myself, many teachers would become visibly frustrated. No one would think any less of them for doing that. It’s only human to get frustrated in such a situation.

But my teachers are different. They seemingly have no end to the number of times they willingly present the lesson needing to be learned. No end.

My hunch is that’s because my teachers don’t have a goal for their curriculum. There’s no place to “get.” No standardized measures of progress. There are only the lessons they have to teach. When one lesson is learned, another follows right behind. This continues forever, until the time that they require their own teachers. With nowhere to go, there’s little need to rush. Apparently they get this far better than I do at the moment.

If you are as fortunate as I am to have teachers such as these, don’t forget to be thankful. They are there for you. Teachers come in many shapes and sizes, of course, and we all seem to get the ones we need, at just the right time.

But I have yet to find teachers quite as gifted as these little ones. And when I do finally graduate from their “program,” I will forever be grateful for their choice to offer such wisdom to enrich my life.