The holiday season is upon us, which seems as good a time as any to tell you about my son’s P.E. teacher.
Mr. Callahan has a voice that can be heard from the top of the bleachers, and an air of confidence that is a requirement of P.E. teachers across the globe. And speaking of the globe, he pretty much spins it on its axis, according to my son, who will do anything Mr. Callahan tells him to do. He tells my son to jump – the boy jumps. He tells my son to run – the boy sprints. I tell my son to wash his hands before dinner, and he grumbles as he slouches toward the bathroom, looking like a kid who hasn’t run or jumped a day in his life. I’ll bet he’d wash his hands if Mr. Callahan told him to.
And here’s something else you didn’t know about Mr. Callahan: He can juggle.
“Mr. Callahan says you have to put a backspin on the rings to juggle them,” my son informs me when I ask him to set the table.
“Did you know Mr. Callahan can juggle chainsaws?” he asks as I’m trying to balance the checkbook.
“Mr. Callahan says I need to practice every day,” he tells me when I ask him if he’s brushed his teeth yet.
One day, after weeks of listening to juggling talk over the dinner table, I run into Mr. Callahan himself at the school. We get to talking about juggling, and he tells me, in that authoritative P.E. teacher voice of his, that “juggling is a lifelong skill for the kids.”
Mr. Callahan, I think to myself, you don’t know the half of it.
It’s the holiday season, after all, and what mother in Beijing doesn’t juggle every day? Mr. Callahan juggles chainsaws. I juggle holiday parties, afterschool activities and teacher conferences. What’s that, you say? Mr. Callahan can juggle fire? Well, I can remove a pan of tomatoes from the broiler while watching a preschooler roll out Christmas cookies and helping a first-grader write his Christmas wish list. Oh, and I do it all while simultaneously dodging misguided juggling rings, deflecting them before they hit the pot of soup bubbling away on the stove. Which sounds harder to you?
Later that afternoon, as I’m pulling dusty boxes of holiday decorations off the shelves and trying to distract the baby so she doesn’t put them in her mouth, I remember what Mr. Callahan said. Juggling is, indeed, a life skill. Juggling rings and clubs, as my son is now able to do, actually looks like it could be fun, even. More fun than juggling holiday obligations and doctor’s appointments, anyway.
I’m distracted from my thoughts by a call for help from the living room. I set down the baby and set up the ladder so I can fish a stray juggling ring from its perch atop the Christmas tree. The tree is up, but not yet decorated. Groceries are in the kitchen, but have yet to be turned into dinner. I’m trying to keep up with it all: the Christmas cookies to be baked, the bedtime stories to be read, the Chinese homework to be checked. I toss the ring down to my son, who continues juggling, right alongside me. He’s totally focused on the task at hand, yet he somehow manages to sidestep the baby, who is teetering around, trying to grab on to his leg. Not bad for a beginning juggler. All of that time spent with his juggling coach seems to have paid off.
This holiday season, I’m thinking fondly of Mr. Callahan and his fellow teachers – all laboring over my son’s care and schooling, worrying about him, guiding him, helping mold him into a man who will someday juggle, not just chainsaws and fire, but job and family, self and community, humor and hard work. I think of these teachers, of their enthusiasm, of their devotion, of the wisdom they impart daily. My heart swells with the realization of just what a gift they are to my family every day in Beijing, and I start to tear up just a little.
Then I get whacked on the head by an errant ring. I drop a box of decorations on my foot, and I start to cry in earnest.
Happy holidays, Mr. Callahan. And hurry back from vacation. It’s a lot easier to juggle when the kids are in school.
Donna Scaramastra Gorman is a freelance writer and mother of four who has lived in Beijing for two years. Her work has appeared in Newsweek, the Washington Post and the Christian Science Monitor.