Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Not Anticipating

From the very first day of school, and quite likely before, children had been anticipating the big day, telling me of their costume plans, of the scary decorations going up in their neighborhoods, and of the candy they intended to eat. Because of this, because the children bring it into the classroom, we've spent the last two months in a slow build-up to the big day. (If you're curious about some of the things we typically do, click the "Halloween" tag over there in the right-hand column.)

It's only natural then that we would have a relatively long wind-down. Our outdoor space in particular is in a state of Halloween decay, with our worm bin hosting a pair of slowly rotting jacks, both of which are currently full of compost. Yesterday, we found worms crawling out of their eyes. We have a bed in our garden, in which we've been using a garden hoe to chop up another pair of jacks. There are a lot of seeds in there as well, informally planted by the process, sprouts and blossoms to anticipate through the coming seasons.

Logan's family donated a pair of straw bales and several decorative cornstalks for last week's all-school Halloween party. They had been positioned near the gate and used as a kind of photo booth, but the kids, in the aftermath, felt they needed to be moved down the hill so that our little playhouse could be a "farm."

Their initial plan was for me to move them into place, but when I objected, saying, "It's not my school," they put their heads together and came up with a combination of wheelbarrows, wagons and just tumbling them down the hill, putting one right across the doorway.

When I said, "But now it will be hard to get in," the children, all of them, answered, "I can still get in," then showed me they could either climb over or squeeze through. 

When I've had the conversation with subsequent classes, including the two-year-olds, I've received the same response, so the bale has remained across the doorway.

The children have, of course, also discovered the cobs of corn hidden in the stalks. It's been fascinating to observe that the instinctive response of children of all ages, city children, has been to strip the husk away, then continue to pick the corn from the cob kernel-by-kernel, as if preparing the seed for planting. The older kids have discovered the more efficient technique of just beating the cob on a stump until kernels fly off.

A few of the older boys fashioned cornstalks into weapons, lashing one another with the leaves. A smaller group of three boys were so intent on this game, and so insistent that it didn't hurt, that I helped them negotiate a set of rules in which the only ones who could possibly be injured by their play were the three of them, a game that evolved into dropping mini pumpkins on one another, then larger squash and gourds, ending in tears, of course, when they worked their way up to larger rotting jacks, including the one into which we'd screwed dozens of brass screws. 

I've asked about candy at all of our circle times as the kids have taken turns to inform us about their trick-or-treating experiences. I love how miraculous they find it that their own experiences are echoed in those of their classmates. "I did that too!" Many teachers feel a need to brace themselves for the day after Halloween, what with all the sugar binging, lack of sleep, and general holiday excitement let-down, but I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. 

Perhaps part of this is because of a neo-legend I've been working to propagate these last few years. Her name is the Sugar Fairy, the Tooth Fairy's sister, a creature who craves candy to the point that she sports a mouthful of grotesque, decaying teeth, a perpetually sour tummy, and a body that grows side-to-side rather than in the normal upward direction. In the lead up to the big day, I tell her story as I would any other circle time story, telling them that some kids eat as much candy as their adults will permit them on Halloween night, then leave the remainder outside their door when they go to bed. The Sugar Fairy then comes in the night and leaves a "surprise" in its place. I never really expected anything to come from the story, but yesterday, an informal survey of the kids in our Pre-K class revealed that half of them had, indeed, left their candy for the Sugar Fairy, some receiving toys, others money. 

Too often, I think, we tend to race up to our big moments, then the second they are over, push on to the next, storing the decorations and tossing the leftovers. I crave this lull, this time of reflection, of decay, of not-anticipation. I've never had children bring Thanksgiving into the classroom, and those festivals of lights are still too far away. Now is a time for sitting on hay bales and picking at those kernels of corn: not anticipating.

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