I always enjoy meeting interested families at the Macomber Center open houses and telling them about our work. I especially like that I don’t have to sell the place--the Center sells itself to parents who are ready to give their kids the priceless gift of engineering their own lives.
The December open house was no exception: many interested parents arrived eager to explore the work that we do and to see if their children might thrive here. During several of the conversations I had with parents, in an effort to express what is so exceptional about being a member of our community, I found myself marveling, “we can all show up as who we are.” Reflecting on it now, I realize how precious this is, and how rare. Our society does not offer many places where we—whether kids or adults--can really be who we are—and be truly valued for our uniqueness.
Some visiting parents sense it right away: Macomber is a refreshing contrast to a normal “educational” institution, where everyone is playing his or her assigned role: teachers managing kids; kids doing their best to evade being managed by teachers while maintaining the esteem of their peers. Many Macomber kids are grateful to be free from this school role-playing, both with respect to teachers, and with respect to peer pressure about dress and behavior.
I have been on both ends of the school role-playing game. In 12 years of public school I became accomplished at playing the school game. Luckily, I opted out of the peer definition game, and defined myself as a creative type, able to “show up as who I am” after school hours with my friends, making “skuz band” music tapes and wacky 8mm films. As an adult, my affinity both for kids and for making music landed me a job teaching music at a prestigious private school. What I did not love was playing the teacher role: making the kids follow my agenda for every class and evaluating every aspect of what they did. Seeing the kids 45 minutes per week, I couldn’t get to know them or relate to them as individuals. I never had the privilege of showing up as who I really am: a kid-loving musician. One significant exception was at the end of the year where I let them form their own ensembles and make up their own music--to show up as themselves. Though some kids were bewildered by this unfathomable opportunity, the creativity and presence exhibited by many others was exhilarating, both for them and for me.
So, how does “showing up as who I am” show up for me at the Macomber Center?
I can follow the lead of the kids, whatever it may be and respond to the current situation, whether it’s an invitation to play music, getting a “tattoo,” finding the area of a circle, talking about diet, or helping put on mittens. I can bring myself fully to any situation. There is a freshness, an immediacy, to every moment. What is being asked of me? What can I contribute? What does the immediate situation seem to need? There are no boundaries, whether playing Thelonious Monk or playing four-square.
Being Able to Define My Role
Closely related to spontaneity, I can define my role and take on responsibilities that are meaningful to me. In fact, one of the wonderful challenges of being a staff member at the Macomber Center is the opportunity to continually redefine how we relate to the many people we encounter each day. Each staff member does many things during the day. (See Mark’s excellent blog posts for a taste of the plethora of activities encompassed by a single day.) This constant flow and redefinition is challenging and wonderful. Where else can we write ourselves anew each day in this way?
I am a learner alongside the kids. Instead of having to be an authority with the answers, I can be a fellow traveler along the road to knowledge and relish finding the answers together. I can pursue my interests and share them with kids and staff. Staff are able to model being curious capable adults because that’s what we are! We bring our diverse interests with us every day. In fact, modeling a tolerance for ambiguity and not knowing may be one of the more important things that the adults in the Macomber community provide.
There are not many places where adults can be ridiculous around kids. I am deeply grateful that the Macomber Center is one of them! Enjoying ourselves and having fun is a critical part for me of what makes the Macomber Center so enticing. The distinction between work and play is as fuzzy as it can possibly be. Piaget, Montessori and Fred Rogers all agree: play is the work of children (and at least some adults).
Being in Relationships
My interactions arise in the context of rich personal relationships I have the luxury of establishing with both the kids and fellow staff, rather than being defined by a role. Kids get to know me as a person--as who I am--with all my quirks and abilities, and vice versa. We all get to mix with whomever we please. At any moment, kids can choose to interact with adults as they please based on whatever criteria they choose to apply, rather than on any predefined role. Kids come to me because they know enough about me to perceive that I may have something to offer, not because I’m “the music teacher,” or “the math teacher.” Our relationships are based on continually-shifting actions and reactions, perceptions and impressions, which play out moment–to-moment and call forth our most spontaneous selves.
And for the kids? For the kids in the Macomber community, “showing up as who we are” takes as many forms as we have members. We all bring ourselves as fully as we are able to into the mix—growing, feeding, challenging, burnishing one another, and bringing out (mostly) the best in one another because we share the freedom to show up as we are. It’s a great gift.
Finally: How about you? What does it mean to you to “show up as you are” at the Macomber Center? Please share your thoughts in the Comment section. Thanks!