When I first began my journey as a Montessori teacher I had the privilege of hearing a talk by Molly O'Shaughnessy titled “Free fall and Surrender”. I worked closely with Molly and I talked to her many times about how I didn’t understand how one could free fall without first surrendering. It seemed to me that the title was in the wrong order.
Living through the Harvey devastation is teaching me what she really meant.
Friday August 25th, 2017 started my free fall. I went to my Studio and carefully stacked every piece of furniture, material, and toy that I had. I made sure that the only things touching the ground were the items I was willing to let go. I knew that the building had flooded before with six inches of water, so it was important for me to get things up. After doing all I could, I went to the grocery store and stocked up on food that we could eat if we were trapped in our house for a week without power.
I then picked up my kids from school at noon as all the schools were closing early because the storm was on its way.
At home, we were glued to the news and weather reports and over the next four days we watched out the windows as our city filled with water. We stayed close as a family and closest as we sat in the hallway for the tornado warnings. I couldn’t answer my children’s questions with factual answers about why, where next, and will it be us? I could only reassure them that we were safe together as a family and we would stay together.
We were so fortunate. Our house did not take on water and we maintained electrical service. We watched on TV as family after family was evacuated by boat or air mattress from their home, taking with them only a backpack. Everything in their house was lost. I found myself watching the drone images of the neighborhoods around me, including the one my Studio is in. The water was so high it was difficult to even recognize the streets and buildings. I was holding my breath not knowing if the water had flooded my business. I didn’t know when I would be able to leave my house and go see for myself if there was anything left. I was in free fall, swirling in the unknown and out of control. Life happening around me in a sort of slow motion. The storm was parked over Houston and the minutes seemed like hours as we watched the 4”/hour rainfall.
I needed to surrender. I needed to let go and know that even with all my planning, I could not have planned for this. What was going to happen was going to happen, and I would do what needed to be done when it was all over. I didn’t know when that was going to be, and that was O.K.
On Tuesday morning we were able to leave our house and see my Studio. It had taken on two and a half feet of water. The water had all receded and now everything was covered in a layer of scum. All I could do was look at it. I didn’t know where to start and what should happen next. I did know that what was done was done and we would go from there. I had stacked most things starting above three feet so were were able to get that out and to a dry facility. Perfect.
As I looked around to see what I should take next, I opened a chest that I use to store infant toys. It was full of water and the toys were all destroyed. I instantly welled up. So many happy babies have used those toys, learning to coordinate their hand movements, grasping and reaching, laughing and giggling as they learn about the world. Our walker wagon and pull up bar were also lost; so many babies have learned to stand and walk with these. The pride and joy on their faces forever captured in my memory as I moved the wagon to the pile of debris.
I know these are just things, and I can replace them in time. I know that when I prepare a Montessori environment I am not supposed to get attached to the items in it, knowing that they may break or get lost. This is part of the teacher's’ preparation of her classroom, we provide the best for the littlest and we trust them to do their best to take care of it.
When I prepare an environment I choose each item with care, imagining the little hands that will hold it and user it. I imagine that it may be broken one day and it will serve it’s purpose as a natural lesson for whomever is caring for it in that moment.
When I prepare an environment, I don’t prepare it with the idea that a flood will come and take these away from the children. It is their environment. It is their joyful place to work. Now this one is gone.
The amazing news is that for the past two months I have been working on a new studio space and the day before Harvey hit, they finished installing the floors. Not a drop of water got into our new Studio. It is dry and beautiful and since Tuesday, my construction crew has been doing everything they can to get it ready for the children. Studio June will open its new (and dry) location on September 11th!
Thank you, Molly, for your presentation 20 years ago that prepared me for Harvey. I found myself in a free fall and was able to surrender and move toward recovery.