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.

How can I teach Christian values in a nonsectarian organisation?

My first reaction was disbelief. Then it turned into amazement. That was when I first saw a 4-year old child holding a hammer, a real child-size hammer, as she carefully drove the nail down into the wood. I thought, “Wait a minute! You could get hurt.” Of course, I hid my panic in front of the other teacher. Later, I was proven wrong because the nail was hammered down into the wood, I must say, quite neatly. The learning? Never underestimate a child.

What followed were years of my love affair with the New Zealand early childhood curriculum where one focus is the learning of dispositions, for example, the child’s ability to take risks, to resolve conflict peacefully, to help themselves, to persist and not to give up easily, to ask for help when needed, among many others. All these learned, while they play.

I have been asked time and again, “Is that all they would do in the New Zealand early childhood setting? To play?”. I always reply with the most open mind because I know they ask, bringing their own cultural beliefs with them. Don’t get me wrong, but other “skills set” like writing, counting, drawing – all get learned in the play process. I might go in further detail how, in my succeeding articles.

Lately, I have been yearning to include Christian values in my teaching. Where I work now, is a nonsectarian organisation but we embrace ALL people, regardless of cultural or religious backgrounds with so much respect. A child, is never to be taken in isolation from his/her background. There goes my initial challenge – how do I teach Christian values to young children? Years back, I had an experience with another teacher who firmly opposed to the use of Amene in our Karakia (prayer) before eating because it is a Christian way of doing. I am very fortunate that where I work now, there is so much respect for who I am as a Catholic just as we have respect to each others’ beliefs and religion.

Having celebrated recently Christmas party with our kindergarten’s whanau (family) and tamariki (children), I have realised that our ways at kindergarten is very Christian, all this time. The tight hugs from parents while saying “Thank you for what you are doing to my child”; the conversation exchanges during the party showed immense interest in who I was and where I come from beyond kindy (kindergarten) and the massive attendance of people in the party as if saying, “We want to be part of this community.” – are all visible marks of being a Christian; being one with others, showing gratefulness and caring and loving others. Looking further back, the way we encourage children to use kind words and hands with each other, to help others when they fall from a bike, to give a teacher a glass of water or simply to listen to other people while they are talking; are all living evidences that I am including Christian values in my teaching.

There goes the answer, to my own question. I have been practicing Christian teaching all along. Now I see clearly no conflict at all in what I do as a teacher in what people likes to call a non-sectarian organisation, to what I believe in, as a Catholic.

God is constant across all generations.

Pain and loss, unfortunately, could not skip a generation and it certainly, is not skipping this one. In all these, it is God’s spirit which remains constant.

Taken from the book “God Our Father, Are You Divorcing Me, Too?” which I wrote, is one of the beautiful illustrations by Filipino illustrator, JJ Duran. 

The picture seems like a picture of surrendering, of defeat. Different generations have seen defeat or loss in massive ways. I am not going to compare it with world wars or the Spanish flu of the past generations because I can only imagine the pain experienced by people who lived in that era, but COVID 19 has been causing so much solitude, loss and tremendous anxiety for people of this present generation. Factor in our own very personal pains from loss of jobs or broken relationships and you have a very bleak picture in your head.

This picture takes me back to the spirit of God, though. We are born with that spirit. It lives in us. I think we need not even ask God for strength because I always say God, himself is strength. I know it because, no matter how hard I find it to get up in the morning, I always say, “God you are in me.” and there goes my feet off to the world. Pain and loss, unfortunately, could not skip a generation and it certainly, is not skipping this one. In all these, it is God’s spirit which remains constant. He was there in the past; He will be in the future and He is in the present. He is now in the fighter in each and everyone of us.

Appointed by God

Feeling strange, I guess, is normal when you move to a new country. New culture, new people, new way of life and no surprises there; New Zealand. I came here with my wife and our two girls. That was 2011.

Quite “strange” was my profession of choice which was to be an early childhood teacher. The profession, I must profess, is so female-dominated that I was asked by a child once what I was doing in his daycare. In his complete disbelief, he asked me why I wasn’t working like his dad. Of course, I took no offence in what he said. Children? They say the most honest, amusing things.

Now going almost 10 years here in New Zealand and almost 8 years being an early childhood teacher, there were experiences that amused, surprised, inspired, and made me the teacher I am today, that I really wish to share with people. My “hat” as a teacher has been very storied when mixed with my other different hats which I wear everyday to work – that of a father, a husband, a son, a brother and a member of my church community (Couples for Christ New Zealand).

I must say that these hats I wear everyday are slowly making meaningful sense as I begin to believe that God appointed me to wear these hats. He placed me, of all places in the world, here in New Zealand, for a reason.

Let me tell you some of these stories in my upcoming blogs. I promise, I will be very open and respectful. Like everybody else, my learnings and un-learnings, still, are happening.