Cottage is for Everyone
This evening, as I sit in the glow of graduation day, eyes dry from crying, I just feel so profoundly grateful for the work we get to do. And I mean all of us: the teachers, the parents, and the kids, too. What we do here is hard, emotional work. Out in the yard, we feel ourselves react, but instead of letting our baser instincts drive, we learn how to slow down and listen, ask for what we want, and be with our feelings, joy and sorrow and everything in between. Those are skills uncommon to adults, much less young children. We have acquired rare and valuable skills, but they were hard earned.
So often, the situations that confront us here ask us to question our closely held assumptions about how we talk to people, how we treat people, what we mean by fairness. Which feelings are okay to express, and which ones need to be denied, or fixed, or covered up. What is ours alone, and what things are communal.
And we challenge those assumptions because we believe in this process, because we have been watching this process unfold, and we see how things can be different, maybe, than the way people usually act toward each other. Once you start down this path, and you hear someone making threats or bribes to get their child to comply, you hear it in a new way. Even when it’s yourself, you hear it. Once you know the value of inclusion, it’s pretty hard to shut people out. Once you give yourself permission to fail, and to be angry, and to not enjoy every moment of parenting, once you can admit you’re not a robot and you need to take care of yourself, you have to do it.
We do this teaching with the kids about “Cottage is for everyone”, and to me, this is more true than it’s ever been, because the adults are acting like that’s true. I see you connecting with each other, reaching out, picking up shifts, caring about these other people’s children, and delivering meals to their parents. You are doing the work of building community.
When we have a conflict, I’m always coming from a place of pulling people in. It’s true for kids and equally true for adults: no one will learn from somebody who does not love them. People need to feel respected. We need to feel that we are seen. We need to be listened to. And because of that, the answer to a problem in a learning community is never disregard, and it’s never unkindness, and it’s never distance. It’s always full and unabashed love. It’s patience and understanding. It’s forgiveness and redemption. For all of us, in all of our unsightly realness.
I give it first to myself. For my mistakes and missteps, for my impatience on the way out the door, for my shame around not being _______ enough, for my judgements and dismissals. That’s why I’m so good at giving grace. I practice all the time giving it to myself.
We came here to do this work together. I don’t know if any one of us realized at the time we set about looking for a preschool, that we would find a learning experience for ourselves. I definitely don’t think I knew that I would be challenged so much, be asked to grow so much as a person. I don’t think I realized I would grow to love these other people’s children quite so much. I had wanted to build friendships with other families, but I didn’t think about how sometimes I would get to love people through some unlovely behavior, and find that I myself had grown from the experience. Every year that I’m here, my heart expands to make room for all these children and families I have grown to love.
And some days, like when it’s time for us to part ways for a while, all that love aches. It’s like that book, The Robot and the Bluebird. Spring comes, and the bird it carried in its heart is ready to fly free, and I can’t help but be both happy and sad.
I’m humbled and grateful for the learning community we build here every day, by showing up and doing the hard, emotional work. When I say, “Cottage is for everyone”, I do mean that I’m not going to let someone be kept out of the play structure, but I also mean that all of us are here learning, loving, doing the work.