In my book 𝘠𝘰𝘥𝘦𝘳 𝘚𝘤𝘩𝘰𝘰𝘭, I used a fake name for Lee Beachy. I had lost track of Lee, and he’d probably never read my book. But what if he did? And how would he feel about people knowing that back in second grade I saved him from a paddling? So in my book I called him Amos, just in case.
And wouldn’t you know! A few weeks after Yoder School was published, Lee found me. He read an interview my son David wrote for the Anxious Bench blog. Lee contacted David, who forwarded his email to me.
Lee and I began chatting by email. He reminded me that he had broken his left arm on a playground sliding board. He told me that he’s a father of four and a grandfather of one, that he works for a global bank, and that he has an idea for writing a book.
And he told me how he had spent a recent vacation day—reading Yoder School. He liked the book, he wrote. But he said nothing of the scene about him.
“If I catch you one more time sitting and staring,” the teacher told Lee one day when he kept leaning back and staring at the ceiling, “I will paddle you.”
I still remember the horror I felt that day. I had never seen anyone paddled at Yoder School, and I thought a paddling would dirty the school forever. So I made Lee my project. I scooted my desk closer to his, and every time his eyes strayed from his books, I poked him with a pencil. He didn’t like it much, but he also didn’t want a paddling. So after each poke, he obediently turned back to his work. The day was everlasting, but finally the yellow school buses pulled up under the classroom windows, and school was over. I had saved Lee from a paddling.
But even though Lee had read all this, he said nothing about it.
Just last week, Lee wrote again, this time about the coronavirus. His son, he said, was getting married that day—a field wedding with only immediate family and adequate social distancing. And he had some advice for me: Tell your grandchildren to write about their experiences with the virus. This is the stuff that makes up the fabric of history.
Good idea, I wrote back. And then I gathered up my courage.
“Did you recognize yourself in Yoder School?” I asked. “You were the kid I saved from a paddling.”
Lee didn’t remember that afternoon. But he could easily imagine it happened. From a very early age, he told me, he avoided using paper to tackle a problem. He didn’t like using an eraser. He preferred to do math in his head, without recording each and every step. And when he wrote a sentence, he liked to edit with his mind, before he wrote.
Back in second grade, Lee’s teacher had thought he was shirking when he stared at the ceiling. And so had I. Actually, though, I could see now that he had been working harder than I was.
I needed this lesson from Lee.
Daydreaming can more than a pleasant pastime. Daydreaming can produce innovative ideas, bring breakthroughs, and develop problem-solving strategies. In their minds people can not only set goals but also imagine the steps they would take to meet them.
Problems arise, of course, when daydreaming overtakes daily functioning. Lee had to learn, he told me, to do more than provide the “final answer.” He had to learn to show sequence and process.
Still, I’m glad Lee had a rich life of the mind back in second grade.
And he’s glad I saved him from a paddling.
“My back-side thanks you,” he wrote, “for your compassion and care in my tender years!”