Someone was in my apartment.
I knew I wasn’t alone. I just felt it.
Deliriously, I looked around trying to figure out what to do. I had fallen asleep on the couch, and I jumped up to run for the staircase that led down to my front door.
I stood still as a statue, not moving a muscle, barely breathing. I turned on the lights, one by one, opening up closets, checking under the bed. Nothing. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t alone, so I sat on the couch with the light on and read until the sun rose.
Then next night, I was sitting on the rug, leaning back against the couch reading, when I heard something again. It was coming from my Christmas tree.
I quietly crept over to inspect. The popcorn that we’d strung a few nights before was moving. A mouse was nibbling on it! I almost died. I was so grossed out. I packed a bag and headed over to Wild Bird’s to crash for the night.
I didn’t know what to do. I called Jim, my old roommate. He always took care of stuff like this when we lived together, so I turned to him for counsel.
“Just head over to the dollar store and buy those little blue poison pellets,” he said. “It’s better than a trap because where there’s one mouse there’s more, and you’ll want it to bring the poison back to its babies. But then you’ll have the concern that they might die in your walls and stink up the place.”
Now, I’m sad to admit that there was a time in my life that I might’ve taken his advice. Sometimes we teach kids, but more often than not, they teach us.
When Patrick and I were teammates, we had a very special class. They were so unbelievably kind and sensitive with one another. And with nature. It was the first time I had seen a group of children that were so humane. When a new student stepped on a spider instead of picking it up and releasing it outside, we damn near had a riot. Those peanuts taught me a thing or two about compassion. To this day, people give me a strange look when I pick up spiders and release them outside. Our hilarious student from the Philippines, who we called “The Spider Whisperer” taught us all how to handle them.
After working with them, I knew there was no way that I could follow Jim’s advice. I had to come up with a plan. A plan, inspired by that inspirational class. One of the things that made that class so very special was the fact that the majority of them came from families who valued the importance of authentic play. They were given open-ended materials and constantly used them to create and problem solve. I was going to have to take a clue from them.
I knew the mouse liked popcorn. I got my biggest bowl. I greased the sides with butter. I put some popcorn at the bottom of the bowl. I headed back to Wild Bird’s for anther sleepover. When I returned the next morning, I saw my little pal at the bottom of the bowl. He’d climbed in to get the popcorn, and then couldn’t get out because of the slippery sides of the bowl!
I covered the bowl with a lid, carried the little buddy out to the woods, and let him run free.
I smiled as I walked back home. It was a small problem that I’d solved. But I did it peacefully.
As I walked, I thought about my little peanuts that I had taught years before. I wondered what kind of big problems they’re using their creativity to solve.
Patrick once wrote that when kids are “given the time and space to experiment and encouraged to try new things without the fear of criticism, these materials transform children into problem solvers that will one day be able to fix the problems our global society is facing today.”
I guess the same is true for adults, as well.
Melissa Spiegelman is the founder of Tandem Teaching, where she provides strategies and solutions for parents whose children are experiencing classroom struggles, and an expert consultant to the USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. Melissa also teaches art playgroups for toddlers. Contact her for a private coaching session.