Archives for posts with tag: children

When I was in high school, my humanities teachers, now know to me as Helen and Bob, took a group of us on week long trip to New York City, with a one day stop in Boston.  Bob and Helen worked with us for months ahead of time making sure we would know how to use the subways and get around because we were on our own for significant parts of each day. By day, we visited museums and scoped out architecture. We had a journal for each day with tons of questions corresponding to different paintings, buildings, and exhibits. I remember spending about 10 minutes staring at a series of Frank Stella paintings at the Museum of Modern Art before realizing that I was on the wrong floor of the museum and none of the questions in my book were matching up to the exhibit. I remember my excitement with visiting my first Frank Lloyd Wright building, the Guggenheim Museum. There was a large collection of later Picassos on exhibit. One of my friends was totally disgusted. I was so taken with the colors and the abstract forms that I did not notice that most of paintings were of female genitalia. Come on, like Picasso was the first horny artist. The man was a genius and I got to see his original paintings, some from the Blue Period and some from the Lady Bits Period.

We also went to a lot of Broadway shows. We saw Noises Off (meh), Cats (T.S. Elliot and cats dancing on the balcony; awesome), and the very fun Little Shop of Horrors. We skipped Oh, Calcutta, the all nude musical that was playing at the Edison Hotel, where we were staying. I remember I worked long and hard to charm the cranky and rude man who worked at the front desk. He yelled at us every time we asked him politely to get money out of the safe, to which only he had access. By day three he was smiling every time he saw me and calling me, “Darling.”

Oh yeah. I almost forgot. We saw a very famous play. We saw the Death of a Salesman. Dustin Hoffman played Willie Lowman. He was so amazing. I still remember the uproar caused by his not being nominated for a Tony Award that year. He was invited to present at the awards and received a standing ovation. Although my memory of this event seemed so clear, I was recently reminded that John Malkovich played Willie Lowman’s son, Biff, in that production. He was already famous by that time. His voice was as distinctive as it is now. It was amazing.

The whole trip was an amazing experience and I almost didn’t go. My parents told me that it was too expensive.  A few days after telling my teachers that I would not be able to go on the trip, Bob took me aside and told me that there had been an anonymous donation for my airfare. That allowed me to go. I remember that it was about $300 and that we flew on Continental Airlines.

For many years, I have suspected that Bob and Helen paid for my airfare out of their own pockets. Maybe I’m wrong about that. But even still, the trip would not have been possible without these two dedicated teachers, giving so much of their time not to mention giving up their spring break every year, to teach kids from Renton, WA about the arts and the big world outside of us.

I have kept in touch with Helen over the years. She reads this blog and sometimes sends me a personal email with her thoughts about a particular post. She retired right after my cancer diagnosis. She is extremely beloved by many former students. There’s even a fan club on Facebook for her!

Helen got pretty ill last summer and last I heard, she was getting stronger each day. Maybe she’s even reading this post along with the rest of you who are reading this right now. Helen, I have enormous gratitude for what you did for me in my teens. You are smart and an outlier. A passionate person who enjoyed her career. You were and are a role model to me about living a life of meaning, humor, and service. Thank you for all that you have done for THOUSANDS of students. Not every teacher gets fan page on social media. And not every teacher agrees to meet with former students, still in their teens who miss their teacher and want to talk to her about books.

I have filled my blog with posts of gratitude and appreciation this week, with an eye on paying-it-forward.  I have had the privilege of an exemplary education and you were among the very best of my teachers during my 25 years of schooling. Your dedication to the welfare and education of youth, helped inspire mine.

Thank you and I wish you the very best in your health and healing.

I met him in the waiting room of my private practice office, a bright eyed preteen, a patient of one of my colleagues. He started talking to me as soon as I passed through the front door. He wanted to play a record for me, an actual vinyl record, on a record player he carries around with him the way another child might always have a smartphone with him. He was very enthusiastic, not so much about the music per se, but the way the record player produced the sounds. During that meeting, over a year ago, he also told me that the big tropical plant that’s in the corner of the waiting room needed to be re-potted. He explained that it was root bound and needed  a larger pot. I told him that I agreed and planned to re-pot it.

The first visit was over a year ago. He has reminded me to re-pot that plant every time I’ve seen him. When I don’t see him, he often asks my colleague to write me a note letting me know that he watered one of my plants or that one of the plants has a new leaf. In the winter, I told him that I would re-pot the plant once it got sunny so we could do it outside.

It took me awhile to get all of the re-potting supplies to my office but I did it last week. I asked him if he wanted to help and he enthusiastically agreed. On Monday, I asked my colleague when he would be back to see her. He was scheduled to come in on Wednesday. He used to come in every Tuesday, which was a clinic day for me. Wednesday was not. I asked her for the appointment time and saw that I had no appointments or meetings at that time. I told her that I would come into work so that he and I could re-pot the plant together.

The plant had been given to me by our building landlord. It was too big for his apartment. It was obvious that he was not familiar with growing houseplants. It was placed in an ovular pot with no drainage hole. The main problem, however, was the fact that the opening of the pot was narrower than the rest of the pot. We would have to break the pot to get the plant out. I grabbed a hammer and drove to my office.

A couple of minutes after I started setting up the supplies outside of the front of the office, I heard his excited voice, “Elizabeth, perfect timing! I just got here!”

We were able to borrow his mom’s sunglasses for eye protection. I taught him how to carefully use the hammer to break the clay pot into pieces without destroying the plant. He worked carefully and systematically. We got the plant in the new pot, surrounded it with new soil, cleaned up the mess, and brought the plant back indoors.

His mother came out briefly and said, “I wish I had a camera. I’d take a video.” She knew how much her son loves plants. She could also see what a wonderful time he was having. His daily life is not easy and he is particularly stressed about having just started middle school. He had the best time helping me re-pot that plant. I am guessing that he will look at it proudly every time he comes to the office. Yes, I came in on a day I don’t typically work in the office. But my small act of kindness, which took up no more than 45 minutes of my day, made a difference in the life of a child.

Small acts of kindness can mean a great deal to other people.

And sometimes they require use of a hammer.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (


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