Updated: Apr 21, 2021
When my son was young, he was obsessed with plants and trees and soils and seeds. He carried around the National Audubon Society Field Guide that highlighted growing regions and seasonal plants so he had it on hand for reference.
His passion was so apparent that his first grade teacher nicknamed him Johnny Appleseed. In her classroom at Christmas, he was given the honor of planting and watering the holiday amaryllis. He loved that responsibility.
In second grade his Halloween costume was a cactus to represent his fascination with succulents.
As much as I love flowers and consider myself a friend to our planet, I was not well-versed in the ways of plants and soils. I didn't have a green thumb and attempting to accurately answer his incessant questions on this topic stretched me as a single mom.
When I reached the edge of what I knew, I took him to the Como Park Conservatory and engaged the help of a master gardener who loved his enthusiasm. She walked us through each display and explained the different plant preferences in terms we could understand. My son left that day feeling inspired and informed. I left feeling grateful for people smarter than me who generously share their passion.
Over breakfast one morning, my son flipped through his field guide and shared the fact-of-the-day about blooms and harvests. As he turned each page with focus and fascination, I braced myself for questions I was sure would require a trip to the library or a Google search.
Instead, he asked, “Momma, when do I turn “3000 days old”? I have no idea what prompted that question, but excited that I could figure it out without the assistance of Google, I grabbed my calendar and a calculator and we discovered our answer. If my math was correct,
He would celebrate his 3,000th day on April 22 - the global celebration of Earth Day. I was amused by the synchronicity of the universe.
To celebrate this special day, we made flower-shaped cookies to take to school to share with his class. He also prepared some drawings of a Pitcher Plant -- exotic carnivorous plants with specialized leaves.
His teacher was somewhat was surprised by our decision to elaborate on the theme of recycling and tree-planting -- topics they were covering in their classroom around Earth Day. The fact that a student with a passion for plants celebrated his 3000th day on Earth Day added an interesting twist, or so I thought. She told me she hadn't planned for the celebration and wasn't certain how to incorporate it into the day. She expressed that she was hesitant to set a precedence for "one-off" celebrations for fear it would lead others to bring in random treats.
To be fair, I can appreciate that she had a lesson plan for the day and I can understand why she wouldn't want to teach to a classroom hopped up on sugar, but I was disappointed that she didn't see the fantastic coincidence of this magical day and embrace the opportunity to put a new spin on math and science. Her one-off reason felt fabricated and trite.
When the school year ended I was secretly happy to see her retire.
Years later I ran into her at a local coffee shop. We were friendly and I cordially asked her how many students she had taught in her 35+ years. She estimated it was more than 700 and boasted she had celebrated every child's birthday – even those with a summer birthday. I suspect she brought this up because I stood out to her as the pain-in-the-bootie parent who brought cookies to school to celebrate her son's 3000th day. But in an attempt to connect, she smiled and added that she remembered my son’s 3000th day.
I can't say for certain if the encounter was positive for her, but I left the coffee shop reminded of a remarkable day when my son and I celebrated the mystery and magic of life. In hindsight, it doesn't matter if she embraced the day with the same enthusiasm. What matters is that a child's curiosity and awareness were nurtured while a fun memory was made.
For the most part, my son had amazing and talented teachers throughout his school years. They were open to his ever-changing, deep-dive passions and encouraged his love of learning.
Each year on April 22, I am reminded that learning, teaching and leadership are life-long endeavors that require us to think and seek understanding. I've often used the following strategies to help me get unstuck.
1. Encourage questions & different perspectives : Questions are often more powerful than answers. Extraordinary creativity lives inside the “what if” question. Questions also allow us to understand other’s motivation and mindset. Powerful questions can be the beginning of something memorable and unique. Acknowledging and considering other perspectives gives us a broader and more diverse view of the world and helps us grow as parents and leaders.
2. Recognize what you don’t know : It may seem obvious, but sometimes we think or pretend to know and hide behind what we don’t know we don’t know. Maybe it’s our upbringing or perhaps our ego, but we are afraid of not knowing something. It makes us feel vulnerable. The truth is, when we acknowledge that we don’t know, it creates a pathway for powerful questions such as “what if?”
3. Involve those who identify the problem in finding the solution : Involving those who identify a problem to help solve it empowers our children and/or our employees. “Why questions put us on the defense. Instead, as questions that begin with “what or how.” When we ask in that way, it changes the way we think about a so-called problems. We begin to focus on how to solve it or what it would take to remove the barrier to the problem.
4. Celebrate differences as well as accomplishments : Being like-minded is not the same as being the same. Being like-minded means you share similar values and can see the importance of a specific outcome. Functional teams and families have learned to embrace and celebrate differences. When we feel accepted and appreciated, we contribute our best work and ideas. When we celebrate it, we tend to get more of it.
Gratitude and Forgiveness are Powerful Perspectives -- qualities that begin with awareness and move upward toward love.
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