I could still see stars in the sky and the flickering lights from distant jets last Thursday morning, when I smelled the first pot of coffee brewing. The rhythmic snores of my husband assured me he was still fast asleep. The aroma was not accompanied by the chatter of my little granddaughter’s morning observations, so that left only one person who could be rising at this ridiculously early hour….Annie. My oldest daughter, a May grad school graduate, waitresses and bartends at an upscale restaurant, but just to keep her hand in her chosen profession and maybe make some valuable connections, so that she can find a job this spring, she subs, too.

i snuggled deep into my covers for a moment, grateful that after 35 years of teaching, I didn’t have to get up. But, then, a wave of guilt rolled over me, and I decided to get up and see if she needed anything.

“Where you off to today?” I asked.

“Half-day first grade/then half day second,” she mumbled. I tried to mask my horror. Instantly, I grabbed a few favorite picture books and shoved them into her bag. Who, I wondered, had prepared my recently integrated- social studies-7-12-certified-daughter to teach 6 and 7 year olds? Admittedly, last year I admired the way she confidently handled and enjoyed the antics and of high school junior and seniors during her student-teaching. And was impressed when she returned home from high school subbing jobs saying she’d had a great day. I’d be lost in that world. Likewise, though, confidence in the world of 16 and 17 year olds, didn’t qualify a person to be in charge of such little ones.

“Dress warm. You’ll most likely have recess duty. Teachers tend to be out on the days when they have duties and no planning time,” I added, now putting a bag of Goldfish crackers in her bag. ” Take these for kids that don’t have a snack.”

She started to look worried. Oops,  I thought. I wasn’t trying to scare her. I knew she’d be competent and kind.

“What if they have to go to the bathroom. Do I let them go?”

Now she was thinking first/ second grade.

“Find the little girl or boy in the class who seems ready to take over and seek advice about routines and procedures. But, when in doubt, let the child go….with a buddy and let them go. But, write it down so you don’t forget they’re out. Keep counting. You don’t want to lose kids!”

So so much to say. So little time. She needed to get on the road.

“Oh, remember this. One, two, three, eyes on me. Then they’ll say…one, two, eyes on you.”

“What have I gotten myself into,” she replied, grabbing her coffee, no longer smiling.

My mind raced. She needed to smile. 35 years of teaching and I was down to less than twenty seconds to give her one sage, profound piece of advice to instill joy and a love of learning to two groups of tiny learners…

“If all else fails, do the Hokey Pokey!” I blurted as I handed her a box of Kleenex and the last of the Halloween candy.

She arched her eyebrows, opened her mouth as if starting to ask me to explain, sighed and drove off into the first rays of light.

I blew her a kiss and muttered to myself in disbelief…”Do the hokey pokey. Seriously. That’s it. That’s the best you have to offer? 35 years and those are your words of wisdom?”

All day long, I revised and rewrote that final piece of advice in my mind. I considered texting her with my more profound and inspirational words. Maybe, after months of spending countless hours with my almost two year old granddaughter, I’d really started to think like a preschooler.

Yet, as the day wore on, I realized it was a pretty good little piece of advice. Yes, I could have told her to treat each child as a hidden gem, full of unpolished promise. Or, I could have told her to think of each child as her own, and think what response she hoped the question, “How was your day?” would elicit. Or I could have told her to make read aloud like each child were her own little niece tucked in her lap. But the fact was, if she did the Hokey Pokey with them, they would dance and smile and laugh and feel joyful. She would laugh and hug and spread smiles like melted butter.And they would feel loved and warm inside. And as the moon rose in the night sky and the flicker of distant jet lights blinked,  they’d drift into the kind of deep sleep that happy thoughts invokes. For they had a sub who gave them time and space to celebrate the joy of being a kid.