My office in the Elementary & Middle School Building is on the 2nd floor at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Yesterday, a little boy who was passing by paused in the doorway, walked shyly into my office, and confided in me that he wasn’t feeling too well because he’d lost his water bottle around two weeks ago now. Green at the bottom and silver on top, well, y’know–metal–and kind of this big. Two weeks? Yeah, I think so. No idea where it could be, definitely not in the préau though, I’ve looked there. It was a rather serious matter.

Every time something requires my immediate attention, I scribble the details in a notebook–a habit I picked up from one of my earliest mentors, Evelyne in Shanghai–the name of the person I am speaking to, the date, the subject, and the important points raised. Catching a glimpse of my notebook, the little boy was surprised that so many children had already come to see me to tell me they’d lost their water bottles. But I guess, it’s normal– you’re the head of school after all. Fair enough–in fact, midway through writing this letter, I’ve just been called to help locate a missing doudou–white and grey, with blue eyes.

Climbing the stairs

I see a lot of kids passing by my office every day–not all of them come in to see me, some settle for a wave, others–still half asleep–don’t even seem to realize I am here. I try to say hello to each and every one. Something that fascinates me and that I never tire of is the (often melodramatic) way each child climbs the stairs. One walks so slowly it’s as if she is conserving her oxygen while climbing the uppermost peak of Mount Everest. Another begins by leaping up the steps almost four-by-four but quickly realizes it’s not sustainable in the long run and settles for two-by-two. Another uses his hands to help with the climb–why not? (I’m sure he washes them when he gets to the top!) Another stops at the foot of the stairs and wordlessly contemplates the ascent ahead of him as though he is about to face a ferocious enemy.  One young girl uses the handrail like a barre in a dance studio and performs a few quick graceful moves. Spinning, twirling, and bouncing.

The uniqueness of children

That’s kids for you, I say to myself. They are all unique. And I settled down to write a letter to you about the beautiful world of childhood, the power of the imagination, and how my duty as a head of school–beyond hunting for mislaid water bottles and doudous–is to do my utmost to ensure that children never worry about what others think, that they continue to do whatever takes their fancy, to express themselves as they wish, and to live life on their own terms.

The uniqueness of parents

And then, last night, at around 11 p.m. at MoMath, I was feeling a little tired and I stepped back from the party for a moment and was seized by what I saw–a dancefloor brimming with parents, teachers, and friends of The École–with not a child in sight. You were all moving to your own beats, some were fist pumping, others shoegazing, some shouting out the lyrics to every song, others dancing with their eyes closed. Spinning, twirling, and bouncing.

And I promised myself there and then that I would spare you the clichés about the glorious innocence of children and the beauty they bring to everything.

Last night, you were the beautiful ones.