The Spillers: An Open Love Letter to Maple Street and her Teachers


About a month ago I stepped into the classroom; a powerful three year old was very upset. I asked another child, “what happened?”

The mad, sad child was screaming and crying in a very stressed way that made it so I couldn’t get my work done.

This is rare because as you know, most of my work is is done amidst tears, hugs, laughter, boogers, potty talk, play dough, outer space, dress up, and dance parties.

The boy answered, “he spilled.” I said, “Oh, that’s ok we all spill sometimes, right?” He said, “No, I never ever, ever spill.”

I watched as the teachers helped him sponge up his juice, and dry up his tears. He pulled himself together making us all feel a little better. His breathing did that sighing, crying, sighing, crying, sigh, sigh, sigh thing, and then he went back to chewing fruit snacks and outer space super hero conversation.

Surprisingly, I got a little nervous then. I am a spiller. I spill milk, juice, water, wine…

I have always been a little awkward and klutzy, and when I am the one to walk into yellow paint in a blue dress at Maple Street, I usually feel it is ok, that I don’t have much dry cleaning, that it is humorous, conversational, even color mixing curriculum.

I am a spiller.

When I open my seltzer, no matter how gentle I am, it explodes, and I surrender to watching the geysers and cleaning up the spills.

I continued on the with the spilling conversations, trying to make myself feel better. I asked a little girl, “Do you spill?” She shook her head stated clearly in a teacher voice, “No way, no way.” She then added, but “My brother is.”

I then thought of my morning at home and how I knocked over the coffee beans somehow when I pulled out the restaurant sized bag, and they scattered everywhere. It smelled wonderful. I said a bad word and swept them up.

I am a spiller. There is no denial, though I try to look forward, be aware, and pay attention to gravity. My spilling has gotten worse this year as I have had some inner ear issues. At this point I was nervous; the kind where you imagine everything not good happening, spilling everywhere all over and everyone pointing at you. I smiled looked over at Barbara, our art teacher-storyteller-matriarch, to try to feel better. I said Barbara, “Everyone spills right? You do?”

She looked at me with empathy-eyes and answered, “No, I can’t remember the last time I spilled anything.”

At some point after Barbara’s no spilling/spilling love, I started my research.

I began to observe and interview everyone, becoming an anthropologist on spilling from the toddlers who intentionally dump to the most professional parents who never ever even have any evidence of spills, stains, or messy children in their lives.

I swayed back and forth with this new identity, noticing my extra care with beverages, and my imperfections.

I asked more children about spilling:

“Never not ever ever” one child said.

“No. Then you have to clean it up,” another child insisted.

“It’s ok if you pour stuff outside,“ a third child proclaimed.

At this point, I really, really wanted someone to be like me, to agree with me, even to spill with me.

Then I asked Julia our afterschool director. I could tell she isn’t a spiller like me; she is graceful, an actor, in a band. Her answer made me feel a little better. She said, “Yeah spilling is great, it looks cool on the table, and we get to clean it up in a big group.”

I sighed, feeling loved, knowing she isn’t a spiller, and knowing spilling is not that great for teachers. I am not that naive.

Then finally, yesterday a little boy – the same one who pours stuff outside – spilled, or poured, his milk out four times at lunch. I went over and cleaned it with him, and cleaned it with him, and cleaned it with him, and cleaned it with him.

I had found another spiller. I watched him all day; the way he engaged the world with words, noticed the complicated shapes on the ceiling, and loved his friends so hard that they fell over.

I fell in love then, three times.

Once with the boy who was a spiller, because that was part of his beauty, his special needs and his specialness.

Once with my spiller self, and I admit at that moment I was tempted to pour; to pour something out just give in to the “glug glug swosh”, the shapes on the floor, and the sopping up.

And once, the most for Maple Street because I know it is a place where spillers, and hard huggers, and criers, and stompers, and spinners thrive.

We are not standardized here at Maple Street, we are humans here; children and grown ups with flaws, differences, and strengths, trying not spill and finding the beauty in it.

Maybe you are a spiller, a hard hugger, a crier, a stomper, a spinner or something else? Whatever you are we will support you, love you, and find beauty in your awkwardness here because that’s our philosophy, and it’s what our teachers do best.

I still worry about being a spiller. I hold my cup tightly and look in front of me, and at the stairs, and I know like Julia said, we are great, we get to clean it up as a big group.

We get to take care of each other.