I don’t particular remember anything about being seven years old except that there was a girl who used to step on my toes every time I lined up to go to recess. On purpose because I remember her also saying snide things while she did it – like what kind of shampoo do you use? Cuz I’ve never smelled anything like your hair – ever. I went home the first time she said it and struggled to read the name of the shampoo at the edge of the tub. Clairol’s Herbal Essence was my mom’s shampoo of choice for everyone in my family (shameless plug for Clairol – except for that brief period in grade 2 when I stopped due to Miss Toe-Stepper, I’ve used it almost continuously for most of my hair’s life). The next day, while I stood under her grinding shoe, I duly reported that I used Herbal Essence shampoo. She snickered and said no one even knew that shampoo. So grade 2 was sort of a blur of sore toes, herbal essence-less hair and learning that the world was able to produce really rude seven year-olds.

Now, I teach grade 2. A class full of seven year olds. I make sure not-a-one is stepping on people’s toes and causing late night reading sessions at the side of the tub. Or at least I try to. It’s a weighty responsibility. Making sure that this batch of seven year olds leave the class in June with empathy for others – that’s my one goal. I figure if I tried my best to do that and teach them to love trees, see all living things (including the spider in the corner of the classroom) as going home to their moms and dads at night and, oh, one more thing, if I teach them to READ, I’ve helped in a tiny way to make the world a slightly better place…

When I was seventeen, I met a seven year old I will never forget. She was the sister of a friend I met at camp. She had come along with her parents who were working there. She was smart, full of confidence, a spark if there ever was one. I had always loved children and included her whenever we “grown-ups” were doing things. She could hold a conversation with a teen and laugh with the rest of us. On the last day everyone was exchanging addresses and she stood a little off to the side watching us. I went over and we exchanged addresses – her with all the seriousness of a young woman. Soon after I got back home, I received her letter full of bubbly information about her school, friends and family. Procrastinator that I was, I set the letter in my to do pile. Ashamedly, I finally responded to the letter a couple of months later – a whopper of a letter full of pages, pictures, riddles etc. I mailed it on Friday. She died that weekend in a car crash.

God gave her seven years on earth and in that seven, she had learned enough to display the self-possession and intelligence of more than double that many years.

My daughter turns seven next year. She is bubbly, smart, funny and insightful. She loves trees, empathizes with spiders even if she’s sometimes scared of them (depends on the day), draws intricate pictures that tell more than a thousand words and always has rocks in her pockets that she just had to pick up because they were so beautiful. And while I can see her naively contemplating a snide question about what kind of shampoo she uses, I could never see her allowing anyone to step on her toes everyday before recess.

I’ve told her that story too many times.