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Dr. Dixon

Johnny Jones, January 1999

Dr. Dixon appeared a most unlikely person at the Early Childhood conference where I met her back in the 70's. She was too short, her glasses and hair were hopelessly out of style, her lipstick too red and thick, and her voice too high and shrill. But to her, appearances were secondary. In our visually-oriented, image-conscious society, here was a woman who looked on character as more important than personality, on substance more than the style, at the heart more than the body. She was the kind of person who exuded kindness and enthusiasm. How appropriate that the first conference I heard her give was on celebrating life with young children.

Dr. Dixon spoke of how children can react to peak experiences with quietness as well as emotional zest. I remembered as she spoke how Bryan always looked serious when something absorbed his toddler's mind. He didn't laugh while watching the tractor dig our septic tank is Tucson - but he wouldn't eat until I put his high chair in front of the picture window so he could continue looking and listening.

Dr. Dixon talked about how important it is that we make allowance for spiritual development. She encouraged us to nurture the child's feeling for beauty.

"`Theos,'" she said, "means `God.' `Enthusiasm' means `Filled with the Spirit of God.'" She said adults should nurture children's sense of enthusiasm and wonder.

I took down word for word her definition for wonder: "Capacity for sustained and continued delight; a smorgasbord of potential delights; related to the experience of the Holy; radical amazement." She told us that children need adults to help sustain their sense of wonder.

"That's true!" I thought. I remembered how much longer our children could enjoy a leaf, a worm, the sky, as we shared and talked about the experience together. We need children to keep us fully alive to wonder; children need adults to sustain and prolong their sense of wonder. What a wonder-ful arrangement!

Dr. Dixon talked about the importance of celebrating birthdays. "That's the only holiday uniquely for each child," she pointed out. She suggested telling something special about the child on his birthday, a practice we then started at home and pre-school. She also suggested celebrating the little occasions of life. She said her son was great at math - but had a terrible time with English. When he finally got past his English requirement, she put up a banner and cooked his favorite meal to celebrate.

Her ideas led us to welcome people to our home with banners. When Chip's mother came, she laughed to see us at the airport carrying a sign: "Welcome to Missouri, Catherine Jones."

Dr. Dixon told us the purpose of celebration was to honor with activities. I learned my mother had never had a birthday party, so we had one for her- -complete with silly hats and noisemakers and games. What did it matter that it was several months early? She didn't come that often!

Celebrations should be teaching experiences, according to Dr. Dixon, and the children should know a little history about the holiday they're celebrating. Holidays mean little to children who don't understand the history and symbols. I found children love the explanations, and find them meaningful.

Near Christmas time our family ran into Dr. Dixon and her husband at Northwest Plaza, near a reindeer made of lights. Her husband showed pride in his wife - "Do you know she's spoken all over the States and in Canada?" he asked me. I wasn't surprised.

I spoke to Dr. Dixon at the next conference, then I missed her at another. As I bought her book I asked someone where she was. "She's in treatment," her friend replied. "Didn't you know? She's sick with cancer."

The next time I saw Dr. Dixon I anxiously asked her how she was. "Johnny, I'm doing better," she replied. "I seem to be in remission."

I was relieved. But when I saw her again I got a different story. "I've stopped asking `Why?' and started asking `How?'" she told me.

When I asked about Dr. Dixon at our next meeting I saw the beginning of tears start in her old friend's eyes. "Didn't you know?" she asked me. "She died last summer." Then, looking at me, "Don't you get upset, too."

How ironic that this lady who taught so many about celebrating life should be gone. I knew her only a handful of hours, yet she was a great influence on my life. Many of my ideas for children emanated from this little lady with the unruly hair and the twinkling eyes.