Emily is a 31-year-old mother of two boys under three. Her first blog post in March 2015 went viral, reaching more than one million people in a few days. Emily is the New Zealand Herald’s parenting columnist, and parenting columnist for the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly. She founded and runs a charity called Ballet is for Everyone that provides free ballet lessons for children from low-income homes and children with disabilities and high health needs. She is a Plunket and Mother’s Network volunteer and an advocate for children’s and women’s rights. Emily’s first book is forthcoming from Penguin Random House. She also runs The Lighthouse events for mothers, and has a popular podcast called Dear Mamas.
When I want my children to understand something – a concept, a word, a theme – but I struggle to work out how to explain, I tell a story.
So here’s a story…
It begins with a little crèche. It has three central characters, and a fourth that comes much later.
First there is a little boy.
With an infectious laugh and sunshine in his eyes and a condition that has made it difficult for him to breathe. He has been through a lot in his short life. Surgeries, invasive procedures, poking and prodding, stays in a cold and sterile unit, and a warmer but sometimes unkind ward.
A little boy who was born into much love and hope.
Two parents – like any other parents. When their son was born they gazed at him and fought over who would push the buggy because they just wanted to keep staring at their precious bundle. Like so many parents, they doted on their baby, read him stories, sung him songs. He was their world.
And they struggled with his illness. We imagine so many things while we carry our babies in our bellies but we don’t imagine that they’ll be sick.
They struggled to be advocates and love each other under stress – but they were and they did.
And they felt isolated and alone a lot of the time. And when they saw other parents who had lived in that world that they lived in – that world of beautiful children who faced so many challenges so beautifully – they fell over their words trying to connect.
Like a light switch on, they clung to people who knew what it was like.
But their world felt very small.
And their precious little boy would lean against the big wide window and look out to the world and say “out!” And they struggled trying to bring the world to him.
Then good news, because this is a happy story, they were told that the little boy was getting better, but it was tinged with a note of warning. Be careful. And they always were, so careful.
So they thought about a place where a little boy could go where they would understand. That hope, with the somber note…
It was important they understood, just how precious their baby was.
Down the windy steps, behind the church, they thought – will this be the place?
It was small, and small is what they needed. But it wasn’t just that.
When they walked in the little boy ran to where the children sat around a woman whose love for children was as clear as the bright, cold sky outside.
In this warm room they sang and they included the little boy in their song and he beamed at his mummy and daddy and they bit their lip and looked at each other and tried very hard not to let any tears fall.
This might be the place they said to each other without any words.
Another teacher put her hand on the mummy’s shoulder and she knew too. This was a moment.
This is the place they knew.
And on the first day of Little School – which is what they called it to the boy with big blue eyes and golden hair – they took photos. Photos of his excited grin and his backpack and his daddy’s look of love and pride and something else…
In their eyes was a brightness, of hope, but also fear.
They were scared of colds and snotty noses and sore throats that might mean long stays in hospital but they had been told it was a good time to try, they needed time too – to rebuild the home that can break sometimes under the stress of a condition with many syllables.
And when they left him, that first day, and he walked away holding the hands of the teachers who already seemed to love him – they knew it was the right choice.
A few short days a week, a few hours – it might not seem like much but it is so much, it was so much.
And as the weeks went on beautiful things began to happen.
This is the boy the crèche built.
The boy is brave and strong but he was already that – but now he gets to be brave and strong for others.
The boy is confident and proud and independent.
The boy is happy and friendly and delighted by the world inside the walls of the little home down the windy stairs behind the church.
For once his story is more than just an illness which people struggled to overlook before. In the walls inside the little home down the windy stairs behind the church the little boy is so much more than the little boy with the breathing problem.
This is the mummy the crèche built.
The mummy feels there is hope.
The mummy gets to have a community around her that isn’t burdened by a past that is too painful to talk about.
The mummy sees a future and she is filled with light.
This is the daddy the crèche built.
The daddy is reassured his son is safe.
The daddy gets to reconnect with the world that felt far away.
The daddy’s shoulders aren’t so tight and those broad shoulders are home to the mummy again.
This is the family the crèche built.
A fourth little member joins the fold. A beloved younger brother.
Because the little crèche, down the windy stairs, behind the church taught the family that days are always changing and there’s a whole world out there. That sometimes it’s scary but with a community around you, you won’t walk alone.
The little crèche helped raise a little boy but it also raised two parents too.
And it wasn’t a crèche, four walls, and a roof – it was the teachers.
Teachers who love children that aren’t theirs, but are. Teachers who may never know the impact they’ve had on lives. Teachers who are a window to the world that a little boy presses his head against. A wish, a prayer – brought to life by a kind and gentle voice.
Teachers who build confidence and resilience and through that, build solid foundations for families to learn how to be families.
This is the story of my family and like all good stories it comes with a happy ending.
But not just one. Every day – when the little boy smiles, we are reminded of where he has learned that confidence, the smiles he has traded with sandy hands and dirt smudges in golden hair, and splodges of paint behind little ears.
Once upon a time there was a crèche that was a home that built a family, because of the kindness and love of the teachers – who never gave up on the parents of a little boy who needed just a little bit of extra help.
Because sometimes we all need a little help. A hand on a shoulder. A smile to get us through.
This is a story for all of the teachers who do this – may you know the impact you make in the world. The smiles you made. The love you gave.
The homes you built.
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