Reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to my kids is one of those things I’ve been dreaming about doing since before I even had children.
I wasn’t sure I was ready to start the book. What if they didn’t like it? I have been waiting for years to read it to them. There are things from my childhood that would please me if they took a liking too, and there are things that I really really REALLY want them to enjoy. This book was one of the things I wanted them to connect to. Charlie is not just a book I loved as a kid. I have read this book countless times in my 41 years. It is easily in my top five favorite books. It very well may be the “stranded on a desert island with only one book” book.
Last night, I read these words from page 48 of the copy my mother purchased for me at the book fair in 1983 (she wrote this information in the front cover along with my full name):
“Charlie picked it up and tore off the wrapper…and suddenly from underneath the wrapper…there came a brilliant flash of gold.”
Liam jumped off the couch and started running around the room, his hands over his head in an unequivocal sign of victory.
“He’s got a golden ticket! Charlie got a golden ticket!” he shouted.
My voice faltered as I read the next few words, because strangely, a giant lump had found its way to my throat.
We finished the chapter, and I told each of my sons they could pick a book to read, as is our custom. Charlie had been my pick.
“I want to keep reading that book. That’s my pick,” said Kellen.
I had two fans! My heart swelled and I kept reading.
I couldn’t help but remember the woman who introduced me to this book, Mrs. Simonson, my third grade teacher. After lunch each afternoon, she would read us a chapter from the book. When she read the chapter where Charlie enters the famous Wonka candy factory, she brought in REAL Wonka candy for us to eat. It was a small box of Nerds- the kind that was split down the middle with openings to pour strawberry candy from one side and grape from the other. I pondered the box and thought there is no way this is going to be enough candy for the whole class. Somehow, it was. It was like something out of the book- a box with a limitless supply of candy.
Of course, it wasn’t enough to just read the story to my kids. I, too, had to share authentic Wonka candy.
As I gave each child a handful of Nerds, Liam asked the question that made my heart swell even bigger.
“So, it’s real? The Wonka factory is real?”
That was my precise response when I ate that first handful of Nerds over three decades prior.
Liam came home from school with four books this past Friday, his name printed in the cover of each one. He said his teacher, Mrs. D, had let each of the students in her class pick out four books from her library, because she would be retiring in a few years. My first thought was I hope she is around long enough so that Kellen gets to have her for first grade!
I wasn’t always a fan of Mrs. D. There was an instance at the start of the school year when Liam wore his favorite Iron Man pajamas for picture day. After school, Mrs. D spoke with me and said that it wasn’t appropriate for Liam to wear pajamas to school.
I remained calm with Mrs. D, but ranted to friends and family. Why should it matter what Liam wore to school, so long as he was learning and well behaved? He’s six years old. Can’t he have a little fun on picture day? He’s my kid and he can wear whatever he likes!
When I stepped down from my soapbox and put down my bullhorn, I learned a little more about the situation. A girl had made fun of him. Liam tried to pretend that he wasn’t wearing pajamas. He’d been really upset and couldn’t stop crying for a few minutes. Mrs. D was trying to protect him.
At the start of the school year, Mrs. D had told us how she puts a focus on personal responsibility, and how we were going to be amazed at how mature our kids seemed by the end of the year. Hearing these words frightened me. I didn’t want my baby to grow up too fast.
I snapped a photo of Liam this morning before school. You would never believe he was the boy who wore pajamas to school. Liam now wears a button down shirt and slacks every day, often paired with a tie and jacket. He opts for his “grown up shoes” instead of his sneakers. Kellen still prefers his pajamas, but today, he added a tie and combed his hair because he wanted to look like his big brother.
Liam’s transformation in appearance came at the time of his spring pictures. Just as I had in the fall, I told him he could wear anything he wanted for the photo. He said “I would like to wear a tie.”
He had never had occasion to wear a tie before, so I dashed to the thrift store to pick one up. He now has an assortment. Partially, I think he thinks he looks presidential. He fell in love with U.S. History this year. He also adores the attention he receives when he walks in to school and people pass by and comment on how nice he looks.
On this week of appreciation, I am thankful for Mrs. D. Kids sometimes need a gentle push, and as parents, we’re not always great at being the ones to give it. I was content to let Liam wear the pajamas, every day, if he liked. I just wanted him to be happy, to feel comfortable. Mrs. D wanted him to grow, to discover new things to make him happy that he might not have even thought about before.
Liam was at a friend’s house playing last week. I was talking to the mother of the friend, and Liam came up and handed me a piece of paper. He had created a newspaper complete with a drawing of some thieves and a story about how they robbed a bank. At the start of the school year, I had to prod and plead for him to complete a five sentence story for homework. Now, he is writing stories for fun. Once again, I was reminded of the instruction of Mrs. D, how this thing he used to dread turned in to something he enjoyed.
We flirted with the idea of changing schools next year, even going so far as to register at a charter. Like a lot of parents, we were chasing a test score. But I always had this nagging feeling I couldn’t shake.
Over breakfast a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a friend. She said the words that clarified my thinking.
“Is Liam happy at his school?”
“Is he learning what you think he should be learning?”
“Do you like his teachers?”
“Then why are you leaving?”
I thought about our school. Not just Mrs. D, but the feeling I get when I pick Liam up and whoever is working the crosswalk tells us to have a good day. How confident he seems when he shows us his artwork in the halls. How all the kids greet me when I volunteer in their science room. It is a special place, created by people who have dedicated their lives to guiding children.
I’m only seven years in to this parenting gig. Mrs. D has been teaching kids for nearly three decades. I guess its only natural that I would learn a few things from her.
To all the teachers who leave a lasting impression on adults and kids alike, thank you. There aren’t enough apples to give to show you just how much we appreciate all that you do.
Mrs. D, thank you- not just for teaching Liam, but for helping him grow into the person HE wants to be.