Up, Up and Away

It’s that time of year again. Summer is nearly upon us; the grass is green and flowers are finally blooming. If you live in East Tennessee you notice the Chickamauga Reservoir is at summer water and the boaters are making the most of it. But, mostly, it’s the time of hope, celebration, and a future so bright you have to wear shades. High School Graduation is here, complete with smiles in blue gowns, The Places You’ll Go, and pomp & circumstance played with gusto.
And I’ve had this song stuck in my head for two days:

We could float among the stars together, you and I
For we can fly, we can fly
Up, up and away
My beautiful, my beautiful balloon
The Fifth Dimension (Jimmy Webb) 1967

I guess it’s the buoyant hope of it all. Having turned sixty this year it would be easy to get cynical about the whole future-of-society thing but seeing kids smiling and victorious and motivated to DO and BE after twelve years of mandatory education stops my cynicism in its tracks.

Did I say twelve? I meant thirteen. My wife spent her second career teaching kindergarten. That vocation, craft, and calling was her passion for nearly twenty years. And what makes this current crop of graduates so exciting is this class, of 2018, was a favorite. I know, I know there aren’t supposed to be favorites among teachers, but she loved this class and several of its members so much that we routinely run into them in public, young adults that they are, and they squeal and run up and hug her. After pictures all around they exchange sweet stories and then we are back to our shopping. Can you imagine impacting someone so strongly, right at the beginning of memory, that they recall your name? I have no idea who my kindergarten teacher was (or precious few others, quite frankly) but seemingly nobody ever forgets Mrs. Fleshman.

Which is how we found ourselves at a graduation party, at a beautiful lake house, filled with grads and their families. And there were more hugs and pictures and stories as we ran into a ½ dozen or more kids who should NOT remember a kindergarten teacher.

The hosts were especially special. Five-year-old Jaimie showed up in Mrs. Fleshman’s class thirteen years ago. Just another cute tiny kid with little in the way of skill or ambition. But she turned out to be a sweetheart with the desire to learn and grow. And she brought along a family – mom, dad, grandma and grandpa – that were the most effective support system ever. Together they forged a team that propelled her forward, launched her into learning, held her hand while she learned to fly. Up, up and away, indeed. Now, the family still credits my wife with Jaimie’s success in learning but Mrs. Fleshman will tell you it was the child herself, with her family cheering her on, that kept her moving forward.

There were plenty of other good kids in that class and the ones that came before and after. And my wife used the same techniques, same 100 Days of School, cut-out paper Santas, homemade Pilgrim hats and book reports – endless book reports, even at five years old because, well, you gotta read to succeed. And they all benefited from getting grounded by a woman of passion and care and education. And love. Because she loved them all and wanted nothing more than to see them embrace school and learning and life with everything in their being.

No child left behind, indeed.

It’s fun to think of the future, of a balloon flying Up, Up and Away, of limitless horizons and endless opportunities. It’s right and good to encourage kids to look forward to The Places You’ll Go. And it’s always correct to encourage them to soar.

They can soar because someone grounded them first.

But it’s not hard to look at all the current problems and the chaos and confusion in the world and be discouraged. We can focus on the evil run rampant, the failure of so many systems, the decline of morality and learning and love in a society gone cold. When you see these kids up close, hear their voices, and feel their hope it will encourage your soul that life will continue, society will survive and that Mrs. Fleshman, and others like her, never gave up on them.

But I’ll let the future speak for itself, with this post beneath the picture of a smiling graduate (headed to college as a future teacher) and her adoring kindergarten teacher:

“Hopefully one day I’ll be half the kindergarten teacher you were.” Jaimie Mullikin

Up, Up and Away!

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