Yesterday, former student who is visiting the city from her new home in another province met me on campus for lunch. She also brought her three month-old daughter to introduce to me. I was very honoured that they made a special trip to see me while they’re in town, particularly since I imagine riding the bus with a baby in the heat we’ve seen this week is less than pleasant.
It’s a very strange moment to see someone you used to teach all grown up, married, and raising a family. I think as teachers, we see students as the young people they are when we know them, and it can be a big adjustment to meet them again when they are adults and fully engaged in their “real” lives. More importantly, it’s encouraging to see a student from a few years back thriving in the life she’s chosen for herself: it gives me hope that other former “kids” of mine are doing equally well. They often tend to just drop off the earth at graduation, and don’t realize that they take a little splinter from their teachers’ hearts with them.
We took turns waiting at the food court table with the baby while the other went to gather food. While it was just me and the little one, she laughed and made awesome infant faces at me, most of them smiles. She had a funky rattle slash chew toy (is it a “chew toy” for a baby? I only know dogs) and just jiggling it was a little brought utter joy to her little face. When she got tired of that, I played with her toes and told her all about the piggies. Like all kids, she especially liked the “wee wee wee all the way home” bit. It’s a classic for a reason.
I had a moment when I was tickling her teensy feet. It startled me that a baby’s heels are just as soft and smooth as the rest of her. I guess I’m just so used to regular feet on grown ups and older kids that I didn’t think about how a foot could feel when it had never been used for transportation. Picture me, surrounded by seven zillion people in a university food court, holding a wee baby’s foot and having a lightbulb moment.
This foot is so soft because she’s never walked on it. It’s fresh and totally brand new.
Then, like any good English teacher, I immediately formed a metaphor. It’s a compulsion, really.
Her bitty foot is a symbol for her life. It’s completely fresh and new because she has her whole life ahead of her. She has no calluses because she’s never been hurt or bitter or smolderingly angry. All the skin is soft because she’s never been disappointed or had her heart broken, and she’s never had to grow armour to protect herself. Wow. That’s kind of profound.
So there I was, feeling very old and holding the perfect and tiny foot of someone whose mother I used to teach. If someone, like a campus show choir, had burst into “Circle of Life” from The Lion King, the moment would have been totally appropriate. I thought about doing it myself, but I haven’t worked there long enough for folks to know I’m just weird, not crazy.
Tickle a baby’s foot sometime soon, after you’ve made sure you have permission to touch the baby, please–that could otherwise make for uncomfortable moments in shopping malls and Denny’s. See what I mean about the softness of a new foot, and think about all the life that kid has ahead of him or her. It could very well blow your mind.
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