Ben's Heart

lifetime lessons only preschoolers can teach

by Debbi Collar


Each year his name comes up during the holiday season.

A writer sits, pen poised, thoughts returning to the holiday season in which a
pre-school child taught a life lesson.

Unfortunately, "Ben" does not realize the lifetime lesson he taught a
classroom of educators one Christmas.

As it happens so often, teachers and classroom aides live in the moment.  
Children in their classrooms grow and move on as they are promoted from
grade to grade. Rarely do teachers get to thank those students for the
lessons they have taught to the adults who were instead employed to teach

Such was the case with four year old Ben.

Over 20 years ago, Ben got off the bus. Teacher aides, or paraprofessionals
as they are now called, were assigned to assist the pre-schoolers off
the bus and into the classroom on a daily basis. Many of these aides were  
in the midst of pre-practicums and taking college classes in the hope of one
day having their own classroom.

Ben proudly jumped down from the last step of the bus clutching a vanilla
wafer cookie, a huge smile on his face. It was the day of the
Christmas/Holiday party. In those days food could be prepared by the
teachers and other adults within the classroom and shared with students.
Although Ben knew this, his proudest possession was that vanilla wafer
cookie. He announced to the aide, "I got this away from my two year old
brother!  He took it and I got it back. I want to eat it at the Christmas party."

Ben's brother had taken a bite out of the vanilla wafer. Ben didn't care. He
really wanted that treat. Ben didn't have much in the way of possessions and
his family was struggling. What little the family could afford went to  the
boys or bills that had to be paid.  No extras.

During holiday parties many of the more fortunate children gave teachers,
aides, and paraprofessionals gifts.  In return the children received hugs and
best wishes for the season.  Out of respect for those less fortunate, the
teachers of the classroom piled their gifts from the children on separate
chairs, to be opened at a later time. Yet each child giving a gift received a
hug as he/she presented it to the paraprofessional or teacher of choice.

In this particular classroom, there was one teacher and two para-

Apparently Ben was having a dilemma over his circumstance. Not only did
Ben not have a gift to present but there were three teachers his classmates
were presenting with gifts.

How Ben arrived at his decision is uncertain.Yet he approached the
paraprofessional of his choice and presented her with the half eaten vanilla
wafer cookie.

His words have echoed through two decades of my Christmas holiday.

"Ms. Debbi-I want you to have this and eat it at the party!" He was presenting
his most prized possession- the vanilla wafer cookie, snatched back from his
two year old brother.

The new aide, looking over at the chair, full with un-necessarily expensive as
well as inexpensive gifts, home made cards and trinkets, beautifully wrapped
and some not so beautifully wrapped, she noticed that at the top of her pile
of presents was a mug with a packet of hot chocolate.

When the aide responded, "Ben, see that mug at the top of the pile? If you
don't mind, I would love to save this vanilla wafer to have with my hot
chocolate. I just set up my tree last night and tonight I would love to sit and
relax, sip the hot chocolate and have my vanilla wafer while I enjoy looking
at the lights and ornaments. I will also be thinking of you."

Ben was beaming.

He received his hug too.

It was a wonderful lesson taught by a four year old to an adult as to gift
giving. Its memory continues year after year.

Thanks Ben for one of the best Christmas/Holiday memories ever.

January 2, 2015

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