We’d met in Darwin some nine years earlier, and although we loved our life in sunny Queensland, I still felt a strong pull for the hot, frontier town in northern Australia and decided that after four years away, it was time for a trip home.
Years before, in fact BC (Before Children), Rich and I had become close friends with someone there we thought of as the ‘perfect parent’. Let’s call him Mark.
Now, the thing with Mark is, not only was he (at least in our eyes) the model of perfect parenting – but he was also a truly nice guy.
We loved Mark and we loved his kids. A single Dad to two primary aged boys and a toddler daughter, it never ceased to amaze me how happy and calm his kids were.
As they grew older, we enjoyed spending time with this little family more and more.
It’s hard to describe those kids.
Happy, articulate, engaged in whatever adult conversation was going on at the time. Insightful. Respectful.
Above all, respectful.
They always greeted us warmly and with such courtesy and manners. Offered us refreshments, asked how we were. Remembered something about us, our work or our most recent holiday. And politely enquired about it.
At just 10 and 12 years old, those boys always seemed like gorgeous, happy mini-adults to me.
In my BC state, I often said to Mark “I want to parent like you one day”. I often asked him what his secret was – and he’d just smile and shrug. I didn’t know what it was, but I did know his children were just a delight to be around. They were always really present in the moment, not wishing they were somewhere else like I’d seen with other kids. And Mark made parenting seem like such a joy, so effortless.
By the time Rich and I returned to Darwin after four years away, we had our own two sons in tow – aged 3 and 5. (And, I have to say, to that point parenting WAS a joy, but it was also anything but effortless). We’d recently enrolled them both in our local Montessori school; they were to start in the new year, after Christmas.
So it was on this hot and humid November day that Mark came to the resort where we were staying in Darwin.
He and Rich were chatting a few metres away while I sat on the pool steps as the boys played in the water.
It was my birthday that day and we’d had a fabulous buffet breakfast, I’d been shopping and now we were playing in the pool.
And now Mark had dropped in to say hello.
“Hey Chris,” my husband called out, suddenly. “Guess what?”
Now, you – by now – have probably worked out exactly what he was going to say. But I had no clue whatsoever.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Mark’s kids went to Montessori,” he said.
What came out of my mouth next is hard to describe, but it went something like this:
“Aaaaaaaahhhhh. Ohhhhhhhh. I see. Wow. Oh, wow. Yeah, yeah. Of course they did. Of course! Montessori. Yes, of course!”
In fact, Mark’s children – I know now – were the epitome of Montessori.
I thought back to all of our many interactions with them as they were growing up, and smiled.
Of course they were.
So! Mark’s parenting secrets had been revealed! Not to take anything away from his parenting – he was, and still is, an amazing Dad.
But his kids went to Montessori!
They had been explicitly taught Grace and Courtesy. Been specifically taught about respect. Learned how to manage conflicts at the Peace Table. Been greeted with eye contact and a hand shake by their teachers every morning. Offered ‘observing’ parents in the classroom a glass of water without being asked. Been given the opportunity to come to their learning, rather than have it thrust upon them.
He had the ace up his sleeve the whole time.
And now my children were about to start at a Montessori school.
I was rapt! Happy birthday to me!
You see, I’ve worked out since, that that’s the thing with Montessori children. They actually stand out. They’re different (in a good way).
I remember last year when a new child started in my son’s 3-6 environment and I met his mum for the first time. She was telling me that she knew she’d always send her children to Montessori – even way before she got pregnant.
Intrigued (I love a good story) – I asked her why.
She told me that years before, she had been in a regular performance review meeting with the HR Manager of the company she worked for, and she’d stopped the interview half way through. The manager had been asking her about her life direction, her hopes and aspirations far beyond that role or that organisation. But more than that, it had been his up-beat, engaging manner. His world view, where her goals were limitless and he seemed genuinely interested in her as a person, not just another employee.
“What is it with you?” she’d asked him. “Why are you so different?”
“Oh, I went to Montessori,” he’d told her, like that explained everything.
Telling me the story, she said she’d never heard of Montessori, but went home that night and Googled it. She said she’d decided then and there that her future children would attend Montessori.
I remember my oldest going to a friend’s son’s birthday party about six months after he started at our Montessori school.
At the end of the party – with no prompting from me – he’d approached the birthday boy’s mum, shook her hand, and said ‘good afternoon’.
The look of shock she gave me over his head was priceless.
Mark’s kids – take two!!
She wasn’t a Montessori mum, hence why she was all the more shocked. We see our children greet and farewell their guides like that every day, so we wouldn’t bat an eyelid. But I’ll never forget the look on that mum’s face!
Some of the benefits of Montessori are obvious.
Four year olds that read fluently.
Six year olds that go on camp and come back seemingly six feet tall, they’re so full of confidence.
Seven year olds coming up with an idea for a project, seeing it through week after week, then presenting the findings of their research to the class.
Five year olds that explain why crabs are an invertebrate (OK – that one’s my son. I’m showing off now. He actually came into our room to tell me that at 5am this morning. While happy with the information and his surprising vocabulary, needless to say, I was less happy about the timing).
Other benefits are almost imperceptible.
The child that stops to help a friend that’s hurt.
The child that has no fear of talking to adults, or even initiating a conversation.
The child that (unbidden) writes a note of apology to his brother (after hitting him, I might add. My other son this time. They’re Montessori kids, not angels).
The child that says, oops – I made a mistake. I’d better try that again.
The child that grows up to invent Google.
You know, imperceptible things like that.
I bet Sergey Brin and Larry Page had their moments when they were kids, long before they invented (dreamed up? What do you do when you come up with Google?) the world’s most used search engine.
I bet Mark’s kids had their moments, too. Both boys are at uni now – one is studying nursing and the other is studying acting after winning a much-coveted spot at NIDA this year (that’s the National Institute of Dramatic Art – where Mel Gibson and Cate Blanchett earned their stripes). You’ll hear about him one day. Their sister is still at school and growing into a charming and confident young woman.
My kids have their moments, too. Many of them.
But I know they’re in the right place.
Where they’re respected, and they’re learning to be respectful.
Where they’re taught by passionate people, and they’re learning to pursue their passions.
I couldn’t ask for more.
Until next week,
PS – Don’t forget to leave a comment below! I’d love to hear about your ‘aha’ moments.
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