It was about twelve years ago at the La Habra Kid’s Museum. Locals probably know the reference, but for those that don’t, the place is an eclectic collection of hands-on this and that. When you first walk in, it gives off this vibe as if you’ve entered some storage warehouse reminiscent of long past church rummage sales. But it doesn’t disappoint—they found that sweet spot. Kids can pretend to pump gas and drive the front end of a grounded city bus. They can sit in the seats and pull the cord for their stops; the bell still rings. I once watched a kid ring the bell, get off, get back on—over and over.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Traveling,” he said as if it was painfully obvious.
Just outside, you can walk through an old train compartment. Mannequins dressed like porters and ticket-takers complete the experience. Back inside you can unearth the same two fossils again and again, or you can unearth dozens of fossils that look a bit similar, depending upon your powers of imagination. Further in, you can find dress-up racks with heavy marching band uniforms and tattered old Halloween capes that look as if they are from the era of bell-bottom jeans. A quirky yard-sale feel, but a forest full of daydreams for a six-year-old and her toddler sister side-kick.
My kids loved this place. We spent many Saturday afternoons driving the bus and going on archeology digs. One afternoon, we were eating lunch under a tree in the grass out front and afterwards, wandered over to the little community theater next door. There was a sign out front announcing upcoming auditions for “Annie Get Your Gun.” It was mostly an adult production, but there were a few key roles for kids. My six-year-old read the sign carefully. I could see her eyes widen.
“We are coming back! I am doing this!” I couldn’t see a reason why not. “And,” she added as if pulling together a master plan, “I will wear my red cowboy boots so they’ll remember me.”
Faith like that fuels dreams and emboldens the struggling self-doubters
We went back. She got the part, complete with a song and a few lines. A journey began. The road, the horizon, pure possibility. They all opened up. I sat through all twelve showings. I still know all the words to a few of the more well-known musical numbers. These songs echoed in my head from the moment I woke in the morning. And during the week, once rehearsals had stopped and the show became just a weekend activity, we played rehearsal at home. Her young sister and I were pawns in her production. My toddler was fired several times and twice I walked off the set vowing never to return. I did though — usually within minutes. I was clearly a poor negotiator as none of my demands were ever met.
Playing rehearsals eventually ended. They gave way to real rehearsals, often later into the evening on school nights. But the girl with the red cowboy boots had resolve and grit. And a dream. It escalated at her performing arts high school, through every production with some bigger parts and less glamorous chorus roles. It never seemed to make much difference to my daughter. It was all just grist for the dream.
And now? Now she is off to college and New York City. Her dream continues. Commitments kept. Dream nurtured. And here she is, standing at the gate and waiting her turn.
So, on a Saturday morning, about a week before she travels three thousand plus miles away, we have a last stop to make. As we pull up to the little community theater and kid museum, she laughs a little, cries a little. It’s been a while. We sit in front of the theater and I hand her a tiny box. Inside is a keychain with a red cowboy boot on it.
“This is so you’ll remember that this was always your dream. You created it. You protected it. You insisted that it be your dream. If you ever have any doubt about this, remember this little red boot.” For a while, we just sit. We wipe our eyes and then go over and walk through the museum. We dig a fossil. We pump a little gas. We ride the stranded bus. Then we go home.
Why am I telling you this? I am urging us all to make the moments. There are moments coming right now. You see them. You recognize their importance. Rites of passage and beyond. So make them. Teachers. Pastors. Parents. People. All of us. Make the moments. We’re pretty good at it when it comes to weddings and milestone birthdays, but what about the rest? There are so many smaller moments that are equally profound.
If a child in your class learns to read or improves greatly? Give them that book. Gift wrap it. Include a sincere note. Cement their fate as a reader. Seal the accomplishment. If a child finally excels on a test after struggling and persevering? Frame that test and give it to them. If a child takes an interest in writing? Buy them a special journal with a leather cover and be sure to write something on the first page. And, if a child wore red cowboy boots on her first audition and has protected and preserved that dream for twelve years? Give that child a red cowboy boot keychain and take her back to the spot where it all began. There are no limits placed on the good you can do or the moments you can make.
The book you give, the test you frame, the journal you purchase, and yes, even the little red cowboy boot you place in a small ring box may all be lost and discarded over time, but it won’t matter. The gesture, the effort and the great faith you had in that child will remain. Faith like that fuels dreams and emboldens the struggling self-doubters. You will sleep well knowing that great faith lasts forever and no good deed is ever wasted. Go make some moments.
For more inspiring classroom stories, please check out Mr. Bowen’s recent best seller, Our Kids: Building Relationships in the Classroom.
Feature image courtesy of Flikr, edwardconde.