Dennis was the first to greet me. He ducked behind his dad’s leg to summon up some courage before launching himself at me, arms wide. Last year at this time, he would have bowled me over, so I braced myself. But now, as a mature 3-year-old big brother who has clearly learned the importance of gentleness, he pulled up just before a collision to enfold me in a tender embrace.
The next child to discover me was my old friend Sammy, who’s a first grader now. When she was a 2-year-old she would flee to another part of the classroom whenever I came into the area in which she played. Yesterday, not only did she run up to me, but she was already in the midst of a conversation about the bubbles she had caught in her hand, almost as if it were a continuation of a conversation we’d been having the last time we saw each other. Right behind her was her 3-year-old sister Alex who has more or less grown up in our classroom with never a moment of shyness around Teacher Tom.
Seconds later I was encircled by a dozen kids ranging in age from 3 to 7. I got lots of hugs, my hands were tugged, everyone had something they urgently wanted to tell me. I was buffeted, wrenched and wrangled from all sides. There is no metaphor adequate for the magnificence of that moment.
I could have stayed that way forever, but I had other important business to attend to. Among the dozens of children swarming through the sunshine, I needed to find the 2-year-olds who didn’t yet know that I was their teacher and friend.
Once the initial tide of big kids pulled back for a moment, I found Charlie. We became friends in a moment. I met Owen, who’s still unsure about me, and Aedan who seemed to accept our friendship as a matter of course. I made a few quite moments for Ruby by sending the big kids off on missions to “climb the mountain” and “run fast,” which gave us a chance to chat a bit and smile at each other. Judging from his expression, Ben seems to think I’m some kind of a big goof, which shows he has the capacity for piercing insight. I’m sad that I didn’t get to spend as much time as I’d like with Sylvia, because I had to leave shortly after she arrived, but I get the sense we’re going to be great friends, she just doesn’t know it yet. And yellow-shoed Violet is another confident life-long Woodland Park-er following in a sibling’s footsteps.
The people who got short shrift, I’m sad to say, are the adults the children brought with them. This won’t be the last time I’ll apologize for seeming rude, but know they’ll understand.
I did, however, have a nice moment with Charlie’s mom who had just recovered from a small moment of panic when she couldn’t immediately find her boy, only to spot him a ways off, right in the midst of a gang of big kids, some of whom were twice his size and more than twice his age. She said she’d been trying unsuccessfully to satisfactorily describe to her relatives in another part of the country about “this community we’ve become a part of.”
Before leaving the park, I made the rounds trying to say a personal goodbye to each of the kids. Some had already slipped off and others were far too engaged in playing with their friends to care. Others gave me hugs. The kindergarteners and graders promised to visit and keep me updated on their new schools.
And to each of the 2-year-olds I sang:
See ya’ later,
Bye for now.
It’s a song that means nothing to them now, but will be the bane of their parents’ existence by the end of September.
As I walked to my car, I stopped several times to scan the playground, making sure I hadn’t missed anyone. And there they were, chasing bubbles, that incredible community of which I’ve become a part. As I drove off, it occurred me that I have the same problem as Charlie’s mom: it’s hard to describe things when all the adequate metaphors sound like hyperbole.