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“Marly Attacks” and The Power of Expectations

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Our third daughter, Marlena Grace, is a miniature tank with the face of an angel. Of our three girls, she’s been by far the quickest to upgrade her mobility skills, learning to crawl by six months and walk by nine months. (We aren’t the Parents Who Want Our Kids to Be First, either — Marly just did these things, probably because she was constantly being manhandled by her sisters and needed escape mechanisms.)

But this aggressive, fuzzy-headed mobility had a drawback when it came time for one of my favorite activities with Haddie and Laura, our two oldest daughters: making puzzles on the living room floor.

Prior to Marlena’s transformation from a fixed point to an erratic scribble, the girls and I could make puzzles on the floor with impunity, taking our time. Should we start with the edge pieces, or just go at it? There was no need to rush those kinds of decisions.

And then Marly attacked.

At first, Marly’s invasions caused great unrest with my older girls — they’d screech while Marly clambered into the middle of our work-in-progress, reaching down to annihilate it before wobbling off, unfazed and disinterested.

Puzzle time wasn't very fun at this point. Until one day, the girls were freaking out about Marly’s invasion, and, on a whim, I said, “Girls, it’s okay. It’s part of the game. The game called Marly Attacks. Hurry, she's leaving — it's time to build the puzzle! Fast!” Light dawned in their eyes as they realized that they weren’t actually making a puzzle anymore — they were playing a game in which disruption is expected on the path to making a puzzle.

Now, they love Marly’s invasions. They get excited about them.

Because now, when we make puzzles and Marly’s in the room, we’re not simply making puzzles: we’re playing Marly Attacks.

The great educators are those who realize, before the year starts, that they aren’t about to sit down and make a puzzle — they’re about to play Marly Attacks. Great teaching requires equal parts preparation and improvisation, vision and perseverance.

So make your final plans. Have high hopes. Don’t forget why you got into this gig in the first place.

But come to peace now and tomorrow and every morning from now on with the fact that Life will attack, Students Who Had a Bad Night will attack, Policy Change will attack, Bureaucracy will attack, Not Following Through will attack, Netflix Binge Watching will attack.

But when these things happen, do like my kids do: try to laugh, pick up the pieces, and rebuild. If everything gets destroyed, restart as best you can.

It’s part of the game.

Thanks to my three little treasures for the inspiration for today’s post. You girls and your mama make me a rich man.

15 Responses to “Marly Attacks” and The Power of Expectations

  1. Erica Beaton August 21, 2015 at 6:59 am #

    I love that fuzzy-headed tank (and how this post is so cleverly on character without being on character). #thirdsistersrock 🙂

  2. Jenn Bradshaw August 21, 2015 at 8:55 am #

    Love your post today, Dave! 🙂

  3. mrslisse August 21, 2015 at 10:19 am #

    Sharing with my faculty…great reminder!

  4. Daura August 21, 2015 at 12:00 pm #

    Exactly what I needed to read today – thanks for the reminder that destruction can bring good changes, too, and that fun can be had just because!

  5. Angela August 21, 2015 at 12:30 pm #

    Great post Dave! Short and sweet but with a powerful, meaningful punch. It’s funny how quickly the third child races through developmental phases. I think it’s definitely a survival of the fittest mentality. 🙂 That and not wanting to miss out on anything. I hope you and the family are well. I’ll be sharing this one with staff today as my weekly Friday message of inspiration. Miss you guys!

  6. Michelle Anderson August 21, 2015 at 1:55 pm #

    Love you, Dave! I’m reminded of Mary Oliver who writes, “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” You are special in the worlds of parenting and teaching! You bring smiles and wisdom to tuck into our teacher pockets 🙂

  7. Jennifer August 21, 2015 at 3:14 pm #

    I love your quote…teaching is part preparation, improvisation, perseverance, and…


  8. Denise August 21, 2015 at 11:21 pm #

    Very, very sweet!

  9. Lynn August 22, 2015 at 1:33 am #

    Love this post! So true to teaching. You gotta be ready to spin on a dime. Be flexible and open to the idea that every moment no matter how scattering or shattering it is, can be an inspirational and/or teachable moment. Maybe even the one you end up remembering with the most fondness for the entire year!

  10. Lynsay August 24, 2015 at 6:24 pm #

    Dave– I’ve called this phrase to mind no less than four times since Friday. It’s not a disaster. It’s just a Marly Attack. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t plan. Thank you.

    • davestuartjr August 24, 2015 at 9:56 pm #

      LOL — I love that little Marly is blessing someone besides her family 🙂 Thank you for sharing that, Lynsay.

  11. Katie t August 25, 2015 at 6:29 am #

    I enjoyed this analogy and reflection!

  12. geoffrey dix December 6, 2018 at 7:23 pm #

    When Marly is old enough make sure she knows that she has been the best mental health restorative for lots of old fogey teachers. Thank you Princess.

    • davestuartjr December 7, 2018 at 2:18 pm #

      Geoffrey, this is incredibly sweet. Thank you 🙂

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