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mrs. lewis {sunday scribblings}

i was going to write about the time my father took me to see out of africa. i was in fourth grade, and now know that i probably didn't understand many subtleties in that movie. but watching that movie with my head on my dad's shoulder, i fell in love with robert redford. the way his blond hair fell across the forehead of his wise face. his voice and the rhythm in which he said his lines. the way the skin creased around his eyes when he would laugh. while watching that movie i also learned the valuable lesson that if robert redford plays the male lead, the movie may not turn out as you want. this is code for: he might die. and when he did, i didn't quite understand. i leaned over and whispered to my dad, "but he is alive isn't he?" he shook his head no. and i cried and cried. the first big love of my life breaking my heart. all in about two hours.

i was going to write a story about a 13 year old falling in love for the first time. she would be sitting cross-legged on a blanket under a tree in the backyard of her family's home, her hair in a long braid down her back. and she would be in the arms of mr. darcy as she turned page after page of the book on her lap. mr. darcy, could there ever be such a man as her mr. darcy?

but during this brainstorming, i talked with my father, and he told me that eleanor had passed away last week. she was the woman who took care of me during the first few years of my life. i remember her dog peaches and the cookies she would make and that the table in her kitchen was a booth. i remember that there were sometimes other kids in the house to play with. i remember that her husband bob had a huge cookie jar collection. and i remember love. i always felt love at eleanor's house. i think she understood me in ways i didn't even realize.

i was blessed to have the love of my parents during those first years, but also the love of two other women: eleanor and my grandmother. and as I think about this idea of first love, my mind has turned to the idea of someone who taught me about love and acceptance: mrs. lewis.

mrs. lewis was my pre-school teacher, and i loved her with the fierce determination of a three year old wanting to mirror her every move and the sound of her laughter and the calm of her presence. she taught me to love the sound of someone's voice reading aloud, and in turn, to love reading books aloud when i could read. she taught me the importance of sharing and how to always tell the truth. but most of all, she accepted me in a moment that could have been full of shame. and for this, i will always hold her deeply in my heart.

as a child, i was terrified of the dark. i always slept with a bright night light and my bedroom door open. my pre-school class was at a play or maybe even a marionette show and the theatre was pitch black. mrs. lewis had me on her lap because she knew how scared i was of darkness like this and how any hint at an "evil character" would cause me distress. and in the midst of my anxiety, i did the unthinkable. the thing that i hadn't done all school year. the thing i watched another student do every day during naptime while i would wait and then think, "why does he do that every single day? i would never do that." but i did. i wet my pants. and even worse, i wet my pants while sitting on her lap.

she just scooped me right up and took me to the bathroom where she cleaned up both of us. i don't remember the logistics of all of that, i just remember that as i cried and cried worried she was going to be mad or not like me anymore or not let me come back to school, she soothed me in a way that let me know that she was not angry. how this happens when we are afraid sometimes. how i was not going to be in trouble and that no, my parents would not be angry either. she helped me know that it was okay. i was going to be fine. and she was fine too.

no one but my parents and mrs. lewis knew what happened. how she kept it from the other students i do not know. i am sure i was quite a story in some ways, but she never invited me to feel any shame. she never brought it up again. even now, to this day, she welcomes me into her classroom with a huge hug and introduces me to her students. i try to visit her every now and then. and when i do, i am always reminded that love is when you invite a person to become even more than they already are through encouragement and acceptance. love does not invite shame.

Reader Comments (21)

This my dear, brought huge elephant tears to my eyes and a huge warmth of a glow in my heart.

May 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterColorsonmymind

oh wow, i don't blame you for loving her...what a WONDERFUL teacher and person. as a mother of a 3 yr old currently in preschool, i totally appreciate this tale.....what a moving little story....

May 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterESB

i have huge elephant tears as well.


"love is when you invite a person to become even more than they already are through encouragement and acceptance."

wow Lizzie...so, true indeed.

thank you for this endearing glimpse into your past and for the lessons you always share with us.



May 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterBohemian Girl

these are some wonderful loves, Liz! It's remarkable to me that you are still in contact with your preschool teacher! In my transient childhood there has never been someone like this, no teacher I think would remember me! And as for Robert Redford, oh YES. He was my childhood moviestar crush, too, but it was The Sting that got me, and later The Natural. Ooh, I have seen The Natural QUITE a few times!

May 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLaini Taylor

How I loved how this so easily flowed along! Very nice. And I love the sentiments and your take on this scibble. True love. ;)


May 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAmber

mrs. lewis certainly is doing what she was "intended" to do - teaching young children about life and creating an environment where risk-taking was non-threatening. you are so fortunate this incident happened in the presence of someone like her. :)

we were down your way today, and i thought about you. we spent the day in des moines and redondo beach...just lovely!

hope you have a nice holiday tomorrow.

May 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSky

What a lovely lady she must have been. I don't remember my preschool teachers that well, although I did meet up with one again years later, and she certainly remembered me.

May 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

What a wonderful picture of love. Someone that loves us when we are at our worst (not that it was your three-year old fault at all). But that she was obviously so concerned about you and how you felt. Loved this history of the loves of your life!

Thanks for sharing!

May 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKim G.

Liz this is so beautiful. By the time I'd reached the end, there were tears in my eyes. You painted such a vivid picture of love and acceptance and brought back some memories. Wonderful writing.

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterparis parfait

oh my sweet girl! I can't keep up with you-- all that you are pouring out here so beautifully, so artfully---

your grandmother was so proud of you and she is close by to you-- I know it-- HAPPY birthday to your handsome man! What a great photo and I love the art you made for him--

And what a loving little girl you were--- that's what comes through to me in each of these stories including Mrs. Lewis-- you are just bublling over with LOVE.

your response to life is LOVE


May 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Teachers like that are priceless. I think we all have at leas tone that has influenced our life in amazing ways. How lucky for you to have met yours at such a tender age.
Beautifuly written!

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterandrea

What a fabulous love to have...what a remarkable woman she must be. As for Redford? Oh honey, he's made some of us fall into "first love" with him about 20 times. (Good choice.) ;)

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMarilyn

Oh Liz, thanks for reminding me there are so many first loves in our lives. And Robert Redford--yummy. I wish all children could experience a Mrs. Lewis!

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTeresa

This was a beautiful post on first love...as a teacher, I read about your Mrs. Lewis and my heart caught. I hope that I can be someone my students remember as truly, sincerely caring about their lives. They're adults, not preschoolers--so the issues are different...but, this post reminds me about staying focused on "openness". (Plus, my baby is potty-training right now, so that pure acceptance by your teacher is a good reminder for me). Thank you!

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterLeft-handed Trees...

This is a lovely story. Mrs. Lewis sounds like a gem, a teacher in the truest sense. How great that you still have a sweet relationship with her.

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterdeirdre

as a person who spends their days
looking after and working with
other people's children,
i can't tell you how much that
story meant for me...

to think
that i may be that
influential and important
in the lives of the children
i care for
is monumental.

thank you for sharing that

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered Commentergkgirl

This is wonderful, so touching. Makes me want to be a teacher. You are so blessed by all the wonderful mentors and women in your life. Love comes in so many different forms, doesn't it?
Loved your present for Johny too, by the way- can't wait to see more!!

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterM

This is so moving Liz. It is teachers like that whom shape us in ways we have no idea they will at the time. I love that its just a moment in time, that afternoon, and yet it has cast such a glow on your perspective and sense of self. Shame is this toxic leak that drip drip drips into the heart and soul, and it is so hard to stop its flow. I love that you are still in touch with this beautiful, amazing teacher you had. Hopefully she knows about your blog and will read this and have her own elephant-sized tears!

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAlexandra S

the last 2 lines of this piece say it all. i'm so glad you chose to share this liz because while reading it every word reminded me of the woman i want to be--a woman who invites others to become more, a woman who doesn't invite shame. i think most of us have shared some kind of shameful experience from childhood and each of us that met loving attention instead of shame are blessed, and better, for it.

and i too share the love of robert redford and i too learned early that if he's in the movie he's going to die so just get ready for it.

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterla vie en rose

How very lucky you are to have had a teacher like Mrs. Lewis in your life!

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterboliyou

This is beautiful writing and I love how it meanders through the idea of first love. What a tribute to Mrs. Lewis. I am amazed at how much you can remember from a such a young age too!

May 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterKara

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