Mary’s face was splotchy and tear-stained when she arrived. After months of frustration with her before school dawdling, her father had decided to break their routine. Dad handed Mary a brown paper grocery bag containing her clothes, a hairbrush, toothpaste and a toothbrush. He carried Mary to their mini-van, listened to her wail through their five-minute commute to school, and dropped her off at carpool.
The moment their van left the curb, Mary quit crying. With more dignity than might seem possible for a five year old wearing dinosaur pajamas, Mary picked up her brown bag and walked to class. Her glasses were akimbo on her red nose. She desperately needed a Kleenex.
Mary walked directly to her classroom, but hesitated at the threshold. Her sympathetic teacher watched and waited, aware naughty Mary did not want to be seen by her peers. Later she remarked that she was so glad she decided to wait and watch Mary that day. If she had turned her attention back to her class, or hurried Mary into the bathroom, she might have missed one of the finest moments of the year.
From her hiding place in the coatroom, Mary heard one of her younger peers crying. When she peeked around the corner, Mary immediately understood Michael’s predicament. His pants were wet, again. Poor Michael had been struggling daily with the mechanics of big-boy pants. He had once again arrived at the bathroom too late.
Forgetting the selfish despair that had consumed her, Mary put down her bag, straightened her glasses, and hurried into class. “Oh Michael, don’t cry,” she said. “I am here to help you.”
Mary helped Michael change into clean, dry clothes. With Mary standing beside him, Michael washed his hands and carried the small plastic bag of wet underwear and pants to his hook in the coatroom. Mary soothed and encouraged him, then found an activity she knew Michael would enjoy. Her mission complete, Mary retrieved her brown paper bag and began dressing herself, smiling with the pride and satisfaction she richly deserved.
The day Mary arrived at school in her pajamas was a turning point. Startled and disoriented by her father’s interruption in their morning routine, Mary discovered how strong she could be. It was the only day she arrived in her pajamas. It was the first of many days she acted with all the grace, dignity and generosity of spirit her father and her teacher knew she had within her.
Jennifer Rogers has been a primary teacher for 20 years, the last 10 at Countryside Montessori School in Northbrook, Illinois. She completed AMI primary training in Atlanta, Georgia and AMI Assistants to Infancy in Denver, Colorado.
Mrs. Rogers has a bachelors degree in religious studies and English from Albion College and a Master of Theological Studies from Candler Seminary at Emory University. A mother of three children growing up in Montessori classrooms, Mrs. Rogers lives with her family in Northbrook.