One of the most fascinating and wonderful aspects of our planet earth is the animal kingdom. Yet, it has been quite awhile since our Montessori environment has inhabited much more than twenty or so adorable miniature homo sapiens. Until one day, an exuberant woman beginning her Montessori pathway approached Sonoe and I and asked, “How would you feel about a classroom pet?” Politely we glanced at each other and then at the enthusiastic intern, who is so well intended, and agreed we needed to think about it.
Let’s go back roughly twenty some years when I felt that same desire for the classroom. I remember it like yesterday. My all-day class had taken a field trip to a magical farm on a crisp fall day. When we arrived, we were greeted by two very rambunctious Labrador Retrievers, one black and the other chocolate. The black one, named Gunner, ran up to and into the bus before we even had time to unload. The children howled with laughter. I was ecstatic and had a feeling this was going to be a great day. Near the end of our precious farm tour, the guide gathered us into a large circle. As I was helping the children calm down, a woman approached us with the largest, most spectacular rabbit I had ever seen, an exact replica of Albrecht Dürer’s famous painting. Every bit of twenty pounds, the rabbit was from New Zealand; and his fur was the perfect blend of cocoa brown and cloudy gray. When I held him, it was as if I were in heaven. Amazingly, some two weeks later I was approached by a parent who asked me, “Would you like a rabbit for your classroom? We know of one that desperately needs a home.” My response was quick and definitive . . . YES! He looked just like the New Zealander. He was perfection, and we named him Buster. He roamed freely and was adored by one and all. He brought complete joy to our all-day children. Let the frenzy begin!
Slowly but surely my fervor for animals grew and grew. Not only was I continuously learning and teaching about the world’s creatures in my Montessori life, but I was actively adding real ones to my own life. Buster was soon joined by a yellow and blue parakeet, two turtles, a frequent hamster visitor and several fish. Simultaneously, cats and dogs were being added to my personal repertoire. Wow, this was becoming many things: fun, joyful, enriching, hectic and, most of all, life changing. It started me really thinking about the necessary needs of each species . . . A LOT! I became each one’s mother. I started to worry about if the animals were cold or lonely on weekends. Would their water run out? On long holidays, who would care for them and love them like me? I was ultimately responsible for every bit of their well being. Consequently, I as a person evolved. My philosophy on life had broadened. I was forced to see the equality of all God’s creatures and the respect they deserve. They are not just cute. It goes much, much deeper.
Fast forward to the present. So when someone says to me, “Do you want a pet?”, my mind becomes bombarded with what ifs and the tremendous amount of responsibility a human needs to put forth for really good care of an animal. Fortunately, the paralysis was broken; and Sonoe and I conferred to let’s just do it. Now Pumpkin the adorable guinea pig is part of our family, and it feels really good. When I see how happy it makes the children and how much fuller our room has become, I know I have evolved once more. We may need some time to lapse between life’s many journeys, but we cannot stop taking them. Thank you, Pumpkin; you may be small in stature but, oh, so large in significance to me.