At our centers time meeting I was picking clothespins out of the bag, calling children, and asking them where they wanted to work, when Pumpkin raised his hand and waved it around urgently. I thought he was going to tell me which center he wanted to work at, to which I would have replied, “honey, wait until I pull out the clothespin with your name on it, and then I’ll ask you where you want to work.”
“Teacher, I don’t want to die! I don’t want to die.” He shook his head and then looked at his lap. Yikes. Not what I was expecting.
“Oh, honey, you’re not going to die for a really really really long time. It’s going to be okay.” I had to keep pulling out clothespins and calling names, but finally I got to him. “Pumpkin, where do you want to work?”
“Art. But I don’t want to die.”
“I know, it’s scary to think about. Come here, honey.”
He stood in front of me. “If I die my mom and dad and brother won’t have me around anymore.” He looked like he was going to cry.
“Do you know someone who died?” He nodded. “Who?”
He mumbled. “Who died?” I asked again. He pointed. It was a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Oh, you’re talking about Dr. King?!” He nodded again, and this time really looked close to tears.
“Do you want to sit on my lap?” He nodded, then got on my lap and sighed. “Pumpkin, it was really sad when Dr. King died. But I don’t usually think about that. I like to think about his life. Did you know that he was a daddy? He used to play with his kids, and read stories to them, and tuck them in at night. And he did a lot of wonderful things for us. Remember how we talked about how black people couldn’t go to the same schools with white people? And they had to sit at the back of the bus, and they had to drink from different water fountains and swim in different pools? That was terrible, and mean. Dr. King helped change that. He made this world a better place, and that’s what I like to think about when I think about him.”
Pumpkin grinned, and hopped off to go to math to make a snowman and count the buttons. Zoom! He was all better, and I was overwhelmed, once again, by what a privilege it is to be a preschool teacher some days.