Saturday, November 28, 2009

“We Made Our Own Dirt”

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the rat we spotted amongst the pile of pumpkins that have been decomposing in our garden since Halloween. Rotting pumpkins have been an integral part of fall at Woodland Park as long as I’ve been here, and the idea of aborting our experiment before our jacks had fully disappeared into the dirt had me down. I wrote:

It was a very small one (rat), and only one, but now I’m facing the prospect of taking a shovel to school on Monday morning and clearing out the bed. I really don’t want to. I don’t want our tradition to be broken, but at the same time we know that rats can carry disease (although I suspect crows and squirrels do too) . . .

After I post this, I’m going to send emails to the health and safety officers of both of the Woodland Park schools. There will be some discussion about it, but I suspect we’ll decide to remove the rotting pumpkins, and that might be the right decision. Without the easy access to food, I’m sure the little guy will go elsewhere taking our risk of disease with him.

To be honest, I figured that this rotting pumpkin tradition was one that existed primarily in my own mind, but from the moment I published that post, parents began to respond, none of whom supported the idea of removing the pumpkins.

“Please don’t remove the pumpkins. Let’s come up with another solution!” wrote Liz, who is one of the parents who spotted the rat in the first place. It was a sentiment that soon filled my inbox over the course of the day.

Greg, who’s daughter doesn’t even attend Woodland Park any longer, offered to build a perforated cover for the bed, which would allow the pumpkins to continue decomposing while keeping the rats out while we weren’t playing there.

Not a single parent out of the 80+ parents in our community, supported removing the pumpkins.

Both of our health and safety officers wanted to find a less draconian solution and we devised a plan whereby I would take my shovel into the garden on Monday morning and use it to poke around every nook and cranny in search of any rodents. I would do this again just before the kids came outside to play, and then each subsequent day until the pumpkins were fully decomposed. If I found a rat, we would assume it had taken up residence in the garden and would have to be dealt with, probably with a cover as proposed by Greg.

It’s been more than two weeks now and no sign of any varmints.

In the meantime, I thought it might be useful, nevertheless, to take measures to hurry our decomposition along. This meant breaking out “real tools.” We have the usual collection of plastic shovels and rakes that the kids normally use with minimal supervision, but in the back of my workroom, stored away in the corner, are a child-sized hoe and rake with wooden handles and business ends made of forged steel. The hoe has a razor-like edge and the rake’s tines are very pointy.

On Wednesday as a group of us poked at our mushy pile of pumpkin mud, I announced, “I think it’s time for the real tools.”

Thomas loves tools. This was true when I first met him as a 2-year-old, and I’ve watched his interest grow and his knowledge deepen over the past two school years, blossoming this Halloween when he dressed as a forklift, complete with operating “forks.” I’ve never seen a child more proud of his costume. There is no greater preschool teaching aid than a student with a driving passion, which is why I wanted to make the announcement with Thomas present.

At the mention of tools, Thomas started jumping up and down, “Yeah, we need the real tools!” His enthusiasm instantly infected the rest of the kids, many of whom probably had no idea what we were talking about, but who also started celebrating “real tools.”

I said, “We’ll need caution cones to make it safe.”

Thomas replied, “I’ll get them.” We have some 30 orange cones of various sizes, assembled several years ago when we discovered that a different construction-enthused 2-year-old was comforted by their presence (a story for another post). While he retrieved the cones, I grabbed the hoe and the rake, making a show of parading them through the courtyard to the garden, collecting children as I went. When I got there, Thomas had already arranged eight cones in two lines by the garden bed where our pumpkin mud lives. Although they were a bit too close to the action, I admired the thought he’d put into it. The first row, he explained, was for him to stand behind, while the second row was for the other kids.

Once we got cones an appropriate distance away, I gave Thomas the first turn. With an audience of at least a dozen kids standing safely behind the cones, he took a mighty swing with the hoe, burying the blade in the soft mound. I said, “Ten chops, then it’s someone else’s turn.”

I counted aloud and the audience joined in. When his turn was over, Thomas played the role of safety officer, making sure his friends stayed behind the cones and explaining the rules to any newcomers who arrived on the scene. Everyone who wanted a turn got a turn, and those who wanted multiple turns got multiple turns. We used the “real tools” for the rest of the week.

When I left school on Friday, as has become my habit since the advent of the rat, I checked our pumpkin mud. There are still a few chunks of orange in there, but it now looks more like worm food than rat food.

Or as Thomas put it as we had earlier surveyed our handiwork together, “We made our own dirt.”

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Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

I think that it is great that not one of your parents wanted them to be removed (that's rare)...It says a lot about the school and the type of teacher those kids and parents have.

Unknown said...

How great that the rats are staying away!

There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds. ~G.K. Chesterton

Unknown said...

Thomas' love of tools is intense, whether it is fixing or building he is always game for a project. He showed me the pumpkin mash after school that day and was very pleased. It is a delight to hear the full story, thank you.

Saya said...

I like how you guys do things in your community! I so wish I could do some of the things you guys do, without getting yelled at from admin and/or parents!