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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Endeavor to Reach the Stars

            Yesterday something awesome happened. The space shuttle Endeavor was being transported from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to its new home in Los Angeles, and it stopped here in Houston for refueling. And it flew right over my house! It was incredible. I felt a little giddy and giggly about it for hours afterwards. I love NASA, and always have. The idea of exploring the galaxy and learning about the universe around us fascinates me, and the creativity and resourcefulness of the scientists and astronauts of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has always been inspiring. It makes me feel like a kid again.
            Not that feeling like a kid has ever been particularly difficult for me. Given almost any excuse I am ready for an adventure and to throw off responsibility and take the world by storm. One of the comments I get most often about my preschool is from parents who tell me, “[Child] is always so excited to come to your preschool. He wasn’t like this with [former preschool].” That’s gratifying to hear and I love it, and I think the reason is twofold. One, I have a theater degree and no shame so I will be as entertaining as possible, arms flailing and feet kicking while I sing goofy songs to teach them about everything. Two, I like to have fun and pretend to be a kid with them whenever I can.
            Here’s a secret. I take my preschool advanced class on a field trip once a month. We go a different place each time, and everything we learn about for the weeks leading up to the field trip is related to the subject. For example, before we went to the Mercer Arboretum we talked about photosynthesis in science, counted leaves and petals in math, practiced writing the words “flower,” “dirt,” and “sunlight” in our handwriting, and read stories about plants and growing, so even though we were covering all our topics, they were all related. So when we went to the gardens and walked around, we had a great time.
            But that isn’t the secret. My mother thinks I’m crazy for doing a field trip once a month. Even the parents are pretty surprised. I love my parent volunteers who come along with me and help out, they are invaluable. People ask me why I do something that’s such an extra and requires so much more work. The secret is I do the field trips because they are my favorite part of preschool.
            I love taking the kids out into the world and being able to show it to them. It’s good for them and good for me, because it gives me that chance to see it again through their eyes. We run and play, make jokes and sing songs. The world to them is new, huge, and incredible. It refreshes me to be out in it with them. We go to farms and museums, parks and playgrounds, and once a year we drive down to the Johnson Space Center and tour NASA. That’s my favorite trip of the year. It’s a long drive for the kids, it’s almost an hour and a half, but it’s so worth it. If you live in the area and haven’t gone, you must go. If you don’t live near either the Johnson or the Kennedy Space Centers, go on vacation and see it. NASA is a piece of America unlike any other, because it transcends our entire planet. Give into the magic and the wonder, like your kids do.
            Kids believe. I love them for that. They believe in Santa and the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny, they believe in magic and science all together and that anything is possible. If you stand in front of a preschool or kindergarten class and ask who wants to be a dancer, every hand goes up. Who wants to be an astronaut? Everyone. A doctor, an artist, a writer, a musician, any child believes they can do it 100%. Go in front of a high school class and ask those same questions. Maybe one hand will go up for each. Most of them won’t believe they’ll ever be anything special.
            Why? What happened in the interim that destroyed our faith in ourselves and in the possibilities of the universe? It happened to me, wanting to be a writer so badly but waiting decades to even try. What beats us down so harshly? Was it grades? Other kids? Adults trying to be helpful by giving us a dose of “reality”?
            I think in many ways being with these preschool kids has helped me believe in myself again. They believe in me. Yesterday I overheard a conversation between a little girl and three little boys. The little boys were pretending to be tigers and the little girl was the tiger tamer.
One of the boys said, “The only thing stronger than tigers are lions.”
“There are no lions in preschool. Miss Angie would put them in time out,” said the girl.
“Not if the lions came to eat us!” said boy number two.
That sweet girl put her hands on her hips and stuck out her chin. “If a lion came to eat us, Miss Angie would eat him! She won’t let anything bad happen in preschool!”
How can you doubt yourself when someone believes you would eat a lion to protect them? Your kids have that kind of faith in you. You can make things better. You can fix it. That kind of belief makes us stronger, and makes us willing to try. And we need to protect that precious and fragile belief for our children as long as we can. I believe, as I have always believed, that we can have, do, or be anything we want as long as we want it badly enough. Want it enough to put in the work. Our belief and our work really can change the world. Our kids know that.
The picture below is of the space shuttle Endeavor flying over downtown Houston. My husband’s co-worker took this picture out their office window. That aircraft has been in space. That fragile piece of equipment was made with human hands and human ingenuity, and it burst out of the atmosphere and escaped the gravity of an entire planet to fly among the stars. If it can because we built it, then why not us? Our kids know the secret. Let them remind you to believe.

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