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The morning could hardly be described as “dawning.” It emerged warm, dark, and drizzly. The garden was a fragrant sauna and the ducks were quacking their delight over it all.  Star-shaped mushrooms had sprung up delicate, translucent, and otherworldly. I picked rain-washed basil, then stole time to tie it off and hang it over the doorways.  The fragrant leaves dangle low enough to anoint El-D’s forehead as he passes through each threshold. He shall be thoroughly seasoned in the next four weeks as the bundles dry. The whole house smells good enough to eat.

The fall semester has begun.  With loins girded I returned to the fray. It’s my fourth year of this. There are two thousand and two hundred children on the roster. By mid-morning I was surrounded on all sides by two-year-olds.  Things were going surprisingly well all things considered. Right before lunch screaming and tears erupted when a little one objected to my intrusion. Tensions were mounting on all sides. This human, just under three feet tall, had me near defeated when my friend and colleague snatched up a nearby puppet and launched into the most wildly entertaining impromptu song and puppet show I have ever witnessed. Devoid of all adult-like dignity, her performance was so brilliant and hysterical it stopped the two year old in his tracks mid-wail. Victory! It was the sort of inspired moment, so vivid and well-lived, that makes the heart unbelievably glad.

Last month, in an unexpected twist of fate, I was offered the job of meeting 500 preschoolers in 45 days.  To the uninitiated and in the abstract, meeting 500 preschoolers may seem an unmenacing task. At least that’s how it seemed to me when I was offered this job.  Still, I would never have imagined myself working in this context. I accepted the position anyway thinking it would be a breeze.   Ha! In the days that followed I came to liken the task to being trampled by a herd of wildebeest. As it turns out 500 preschoolers is a lot.

The fact is preschoolers are creepy people. They come to school clean and groomed, shirts tucked, shoes tied, hair wound in neat braids. Kinda cute even. Within 10 minutes they start to unravel showing hints of their true nature.  Eventually they erupt into full-blown disarray with noodle-encrusted hair, milk-mustached upper lips, and booty fingers.  In this state, their teachers would bring them to me and attempt to reclaim order  by lining them up to sit in neat rows, and then telling them to behave and to wait quietly for their turns.  That structure worked for only a few moments. The short legs dangling over the edge of too-large chairs would start kicking idly at the empty air causing the laces of their sneakered feet to lose all restraint and start dancing wildly. A few moments later, the preschoolers would simultaneously begin practicing their unique talents. There were the prize fighters who liked to throw punches at each other, the stuntmen jumping out of chairs and running into things, and the gymnasts who did Cirque de Soliel routines using the chairs as props in strange balancing acts.

Preschoolers ooze fluids. I’ve been cried on, sneezed on, and spit on. The spitting was not malicious, but rather with great enthusiasm. On one occasion a great potty frenzy swept the room, which ended badly and predictably with an “accident.”  In the natural course of things, my third week on the job I caught the Preschool Crud, rendering me bed-ridden for 2 ½ days with a fever and sore throat.

The 45 days are over and phase one of the job is complete. This week I’ve jumped back into the fray for round two.

As a result of this whole weird experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that preschool teachers should be lauded with firemen and police officers as heroes in our nation’s workforce.  I’m not kidding. Having seen these women in action, I can honestly say they are nothing short of amazing given the occupational hazards and with their grace under fire.

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