Today is Saint Patrick’s Day, and it’s a day full of meaning in our family. I’m only Irish by marriage, but many of my favorite people in the world trace their names and their heritage to the Emerald Isle. But that’s not the only reason the day is meaningful to my family.
When I was little, the only thing I really knew about St Patrick’s Day was that I needed to wear green to avoid getting pinched. We were zero parts Irish. Only after I was married did I come to understand that the day involved special foods, gold coins, surprise visits from leprechauns, and mother’s-in-law who danced a hilarious jig. I love remembering those celebrations. But that’s not the only reason the day is meaningful to my family.
When we had young kids, our family would often wake to a path of shamrocks that led down the hall, down the stairs, and across the living room to pots of gold filled with an enormous cache of chocolates. When she was older and wiser in the ways of leprechauns, my daughter Emma used to give gentle reminders to the parent she suspected of being the real leprechaun, just in case said leprechaun thought her kids might be getting too old for the shamrock trail. “Hmm, tomorrow’s St Patrick’s Day. I wonder if the leprechaun is going to remember to come,” Emma would say casually. She needn’t have worried. The leprechaun always remembered. But that’s not the only reason the day is meaningful to my family.
As much as the magic of shamrocks, gold coins, and corned beef (and maybe a few Harps) came to symbolize the day, there was another reason that the day became significant. March 17 was also the birthday of my mentor teacher (and my family’s patron saint), a woman who because of the day she was born, was given the name Patricia.
It’s odd, and seemingly random, that I always think of peas on St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s because of Pat. When she was first teaching me how to garden with kids, she mentioned that peas were a great plant to sow early. “How early?” I asked.
To which she responded, “It’s easy to remember in this area. Plant peas on St. Patrick’s Day…as long as the ground isn’t still frozen.”
“Even easier to remember,” I added, “if it’s your birthday.”
Pat passed away way too early from an absurdly aggressive form of leukemia. She lived only 8 days from the time of her diagnosis. That was eleven years ago. I think of her almost daily. It’s not just because I live only two houses down from where she used to live. I think of her because what I do every day at work is try to approach what she was as a teacher. To me, she epitomized teaching. She taught whether she was in school or not. She taught with passion and calm at the same time. She taught with curiosity and wisdom at the same time. She taught with playfulness and rigor at the same time. She taught like a scientist and a magician at the same time. She had a twinkle in her eye. She helped kids to see the best in themselves.
In our work with the RULER approach, we often ask students to picture their best selves. Visualizing in that way sometimes we can expand that tiny space between an action and a reaction. Instead of allowing ourselves to react by instinct, which might mean succumbing to the fight or flight response, we breathe once, imagine the best version of our self, and try to react as that self would. I don’t know if I’ve been breaking the “best self” rule, but I must confess that I don’t always picture me when I try this exercise. I imagine that I’m Pat. Two good things happen in that moment, I imagine I’m being visited by someone I miss, and I sometimes approach my best self.
I planted peas this afternoon, even though the last of the snow had just recently disappeared. It’s sowing the hope of spring, and it’s preserving a piece of our past. And that’s the biggest reason that St. Pat’s is meaningful to me and my family.