Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Troll

I expected to have done this before now, walked up to play with our neighborhood troll. When we moved to The Center of the Universe last June, I'd envisioned regular visits with The Troll, but as luck would have it, the Seattle Department of Transportation spent most of this school year working on reinforcing the Aurora Bridge under which he lives, making it not impossible to see him, but awfully noisy and dusty to visit.

When I told the kids we were going to walk up there, they all, of course, knew what I was talking about. Many of them pass him every day and judging by our discussion they're all familiar with playing on him. Elena informed me that her mom is "uncomfortable with her climbing to the very top of his head." Archie told us about the great fun we would have "skidding down the hill." Sena said she was a little afraid of him saying, "Every day when we come to school we drive by him and I see him outside the window of the car. I look at him like this," and she showed us how she looks out of the corners of her eyes.

I envy my colleague Jenny of Let the Children Play for many things, but perhaps most of all is that when she takes her kids for a walk, it's in the Australian bush. We have wonderful wild places around here too, but not right outside our fences. What we have is a city, with it's own wonders and hazards, traffic being the ever-present one. But just as Inuit children must learn to safely use a sharp knife by the time they're 3-years-old, city kids need to be able to safely navigate traffic.

There are other special cautions too, especially when playing under a bridge. We decided to "close" the area around the back side of The Troll because, for one thing, it provides access to the top of his head, and I too am uncomfortable with children climbing up there: there are few hand-holds and it's a long fall down his concrete face. Also, the unmistakable signs of recent habitation -- a sleeping bag and a sack of half-consumed groceries -- coupled with warnings from a tourist that they'd seen a syringe nearby gave us all the extra incentive we needed to keep the kids on the light side. Although it was awfully thrilling for a moment when I stood with a small group of kids as they realized that cars were racing past just a few feet over our heads.

The Troll, made of concrete and steel, the stuff of the city, forever emerging from the shadows, feeding off the VW Beetle he's apparently snatched from the bridge, both forbidding and beloved, I think is a perfect metaphor for life in the big city. Those of us who live in the Seattle's houses and apartments, find magic and whimsey in his presence, evoking for us traditional fairy tales, like "The Three Billy Goats Gruff," the Scandinavian folk tale from which he was conceived. But like those ancient tales, The Troll has his dark side as a refuge for those who tragically don't have a roof to call their own or who need a place to hide in order to carry out nefarious activities. The Troll endures, like a brothers Grimm fairy tale, because he speaks a great truth.

When children asked why they couldn't come around to the back side, I simply pointed to the sleeping bag and groceries and said, "Because this is someone's bedroom and I don't want us to mess it up." They all accepted that and went about their play, climbing on those skeletal fingers, scooting along his arms, staring up into his massive nose.

Jenny's kids Down Under must watch for venomous insects and other dangers of the bush. We have our own cautions.

We didn't stay there for long. Violet started to climb on his head, but stopped herself. Archie showed us what it means to skid down the hill.

And Sena set aside her fears to clamber around with her friends. We had our fun, but never forgot the sense of caution that fairy tales teach us. And that is exactly how fairy tales so perfectly reflect what we know is true about the real world: we play in the light, but there is always darkness behind or underneath. Every person who will be well-educated knows this, takes measures against it, then gets about the business of living.

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1 comment:

Michelle Walker said...

I have just discovered your blog and I am in awe! To me you are the epitome of an excellent educator and caregiver! I now wish I lived in Seattle so that my young daughter could experience you and your wonderful school! I look forward to reading more of your brilliant posts in the future! Happy teaching form one teacher to another!

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