The 60-Year-Old First Grader

Three decades in the same grade. You read that right, that’s exactly what I wrote. A 60-year-old first grader. The thought of a sexagenarian traipsing the halls of a school, when years ago they needed to finish high school, probably leaves you horrified, cringing and cursing our education system. It leaves you to wonder how someone with an AARP card who qualifies for senior coffee prices at McDonald’s sits in the lunch room with six-year-olds sipping on milk with missing front teeth as they wait another decade for a driver’s license.

But this first grader aces the alphabet, arithmetic and the toughest subject of all — parenting. My mom, the oldest and smartest first grader anyone could be lucky enough to know. This week she turned the big 6-0. The truest definition of a teacher, with zeal for learning and zest for self-improvement. If we walk into a WalMart sixty miles from her school, she recognizes (and gets recognized by) kids she taught when Alf graced televisions in primetime. She often admits that when she gets new shoes, it puts an extra pep in her step and all the small faces in her classroom get a kick for the rest of the day out of her new kicks, and that makes her day. Of all the classroom lessons my mom tediously planned with a perfect combination of persistence, patience and passion for excellence, none can mean more than the life lessons.

She showed me you should love life as much as you love your family and your work. Your job should never center around a paycheck or clocking out at 40 hours, but it should be about what in life cannot be given a number, like giving people opportunities to find the best in themselves. She taught me that being a good teacher will always be harder than being the best student in the class because you will be the student that never gets it all right the first time. She reminds me to give hugs and high fives every day, no matter the size of an accomplishment because each achievement in life that moves us forward should be celebrated. When the pencil breaks, it’s not a big deal. Grab the sharpener along the wall and start again. She never told me any of these things, she modeled every one of them with the same precision and dedication that she used to draw out her perfect penmanship as she taught me to write. When winter comes, recess outside may mean freezing your fanny off, but the silver lining to the clouds of snow comes when you plop a carrot in a snowman’s face.

I didn’t always appreciate, and still do not, all the wisdom my mom gave me about learning and life, but every day there seems to be one more thing I shake my head at and think, “She was right about that.”

To the oldest first grader I know, happy birthday, Mom, and here’s to another year of your life lessons.

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