Martha, Mary and the caterpillar room

Dave Canovas

When we are like Martha, we often tend to feel that time is running out. We often feel that life becomes an emergency situation. In that sense, we tend to miss out what really matters in a particular moment.

Humour does have a place in the kindergarten where I work. When things get very busy, and I mean, really busy, we certainly know how to roll with it. Imagine a room full of thirty children or so, with varying needs to explore, need to be heard or to be looked after physically (i.e. toileting) or the need to sit next to a teacher for an emotional coaching. I think I have heard “He hit me first!” stories a million times now. Sometimes, I admit, it feels like I am in the “caterpillar room”, I would often say jokingly, to one of my co-teachers. This is just to lighten up our moods. If you have seen Toy Story 3, then certainly, you would know what I mean. If not, just imagine children, turning the room upside down.

You might ask what strategies we use as teachers when everything seems to be out of control and when we seem not to know what to prioritise. At any given moment, there could be a child needing help with pooping or a child asking for help because his feelings were hurt. Apparently, the latter’s friend is not “inviting him to his party anymore”. Ouch! The problem is, I am not even sure if there even, was a party!

There is not one right strategy that could work across different scenarios, I must tell you. Even teachers disagree most of the time and we are just at peace with the thought that we can all agree to disagree.

What I am about to tell you, though, is a strategy that has worked for me most of the time – it always does the trick for me 99.99% of the time.

“Breathe, calm down, sit”. This is a strategy that I encourage, not the children to do, but myself to do first. Of course, it is a different story, when children’s safety is at risk. You have to be alert and quick. Definitely, sitting down while being aware that a child is about to fall from certain height, is never going to work in this scenario.

What this strategy of breathing, calming and sitting down, does is that it grounds you as a teacher. It allows you to observe more, to listen more and to be aware, more. It allows children to see you more, as that figure they could go to, that figure who looks calm and composed and as that figure who says nothing, but is aware of what is happening. Whenever I am in that “caterpillar room” sitting down, not looking bored though, but still looking interested with my lips arching upwards smiling; it always seem to be an invitation for children. It is me saying with my sitting, open posture; “Come sit with me”. Oftentimes, that moment could turn out to be a spontaneous storytelling session. I did not even have to yell on top of my lungs, “STOP YOU ALL. LET’S READ A STORY!” It could also even turn out to be just happy conversations about what happened the previous weekend. Imagine me on a couch with three or four children just exchanging conversations. Such is an important part of a child’s learning – for them to know when to take a break from their very restless lives.

What could work for me at work, I apply it to my personal life. That could also be the other way around. When things get really uncontrollably busy in my personal life, a lot of times, silence is key for me. This allows me to be more mindful. I notice, I become more vulnerable to discontent, to confusion, physical tiredness and sometimes, anger when I face busyness with an unrelaxed body, loud mouth and busy mind.

You might be familiar with the Gospel of Luke about Martha and Mary where Martha felt so inundated by the preparations for Jesus and his disciples’ visit. When we are like Martha, we often tend to feel that time is running out. We often feel that life becomes an emergency situation. In that sense, we tend to miss out what really matters in a particular moment. Most of the time, what matters in a particular moment is right before our eyes; a son whose hand you need to hold, your mum needing a hug, or just being there on a couch holding your wife’s hand.

We only realise the beauty of what we have by taking moments of breathing, of calming down, of silence. Silence is not boredom. It is such a grounding experience which brings clarity to our very, very busy life. Often, silence brings us down to prayer.

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