Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Be Not Afraid

My most memorable Easters were spent in Greece when I was between 9 and 13 years old. It was the highest holiday, as it should be. Resurrection, to me, is a much bigger deal than any of the other miracles. Americans tend to put Christmas at the center of our Christian calendar, but we all get born. It's the coming back from death that's the more celebration-worthy feat.

Everyone carried candles home from church at midnight, a beautiful ceremony that filled the streets in candlelight, and later used them to "burn" crosses over their front doors. What a miraculous thing, as a boy, to be entrusted with a candle to carry all the way home. And what a manly thing for dad to paint that cross in soot over our doorway. It was a powerful experience to walk under that cross for the next several weeks, evocative of fire and night and facing death. We've never celebrated Easter at Woodland Park because we're a community of many faiths, but if we did, this is one of the things I'd want to try to recreate.

Deborah at Teach Preschool came up with this terrific method for managing balls of yarn.
 She put hers in empty tissue boxes, but what we had were coffee cans. Just drop the
 whole ball inside, thread the end through a hole in the lid and the kids can take
 what they want.

I never cease to be amazed at how many children express fear when I light candles at school, which we do at Halloween and for the occasional Pre-K science experiment, such as when we melt lead figurines. When did candles become dangerous? Of course, we need to be careful around fire, but that was what made carrying those candles home in the dark so miraculous, the fact that we, as children, were being entrusted with something as powerful as fire. It wouldn't have crossed our minds to be careless as we struggled to keep our flame alive, while avoiding the drops of hot wax that managed to elude the piece of cardboard protecting our fists. When dad showed us how to pass our fingers through our flames without burning them (quickly, smoothly, carefully) the experience of mastery was as complete as it gets.

We were painting tag board eggs, then using our yarn bits to decorate them.

We died eggs at Greek Easter, but the only color was red -- a deep red unattainable with our US dyes. The red represents the blood of Christ and it is indeed blood red. And so beautiful, but the only way to attain that is to cook your eggs in the dye for 10-15 minutes. If we celebrated Easter at school, this is the way I'd want to dye our eggs, just the way we cooked our most recent batch of playdough on an electric burner set on a table low enough that the kids could peer right down into the pot as it cooked. I would want them to experience that face-full of vinegar-y steam as we cooked up a batch of bloody eggs. I would want them to handle the hot eggs and to rub them with oil to make them lustrous.

They functioned imperfectly, which probably had to do with my crude
manufacturing methods. The yarn occasionally snagged in the angular
holes I'd cut -- round holes or putting some tape around the holes to
allow the yarn to slide through more easily might have fixed that. And
the ends sometimes slipped back inside the can. 

For my brother and me the absolute highlight of Greek Easter were the egg fights. Everyone would choose an egg and then gently tap the tips together until one broke, the last whole egg standing being the winner. The discovery of this game completely superseded any egg hunt. Sure, the loser was expected to eat their egg, but the competition was a blast. To this day the 14+ of us who celebrate Easter together engage in a sort of March Madness egg cracking tournament. My brother's oldest daughter Sarah was last year's champion and she remembers it. This ranks right up there with the annual Hobson family Christmas wrapping paper fight. If we celebrated Easter, we would definitely have egg fights.

Vivian and George's dad Terry (our parent-teacher managing the project)
 was simply resetting the malfunctioning dispensers. At one point he
 had walked away from the table and I noticed that one of the cans wasn't
 working. I asked Violet, "Should I fix that?" She answered, "I can do it.
I watched Terry." She proceeded to remove the lid, untangle the yarn, re-
thread it though the hold, then replace the lid. From that point forward, 
the kids took charge of repairs and maintenance.

Sure, the Greeks had plastic eggs that got filled with candy, all red, but the ones I remember most were ones that were designed for the tips to be fitted with little plastic "caps" that would explode when you played the egg fight game with them. Pow!

And we ate lamb in Greece. We were once guests at an Easter party at which several whole lambs were being roasted over huge open pits of coal in an olive orchard, while we kids ran around them playing tag and hide-n-seek. The sight of those entire carcasses suspended on spits over fire was a bit grisly for us foreigners, but what a memory, and like everything cooked outdoors over fire, it smelled and tasted better than anything. Now that's the kind of Easter experience I'd love to be able to recreate with the Woodland Park kids!

When we returned to the US, our "traditions" of the Easter Bunny (the poor man's Santa), egg hunts, and loads of candy seemed, frankly, lame to my brother and me: pastel-colored eggs dyed in tepid water, plastic eggs that didn't explode, no fire, no being out after midnight. We still get our egg competition, but we both know the experience is weaker than it could be.

Yesterday, 2-year-old Maya arrived in the classroom and immediately approached the art table where we were making the yarn eggs in these pictures. She dipped her hand into a bowl of glue, was startled that it was glue, looked at me, hand dripping, and said, "I put my hand in glue." She laughed. 

She then started walking around the classroom, carefully holding her hand up out of the way, glue dripping from her fingertips. The parent-teacher at the art table said, "Let me wipe that off," but I waved her away. I'm not sure why. I guess I wanted to see what she would do. I followed Maya to the sensory table, where she used her dry hand to manipulate the materials, the other hand still held so as not to get glue on anything. The parent-teacher there said, "Let me wipe that off," but I waved her off too.

I followed Maya to where others were shaping play dough, then to a table top set-up with Hot Wheels and track, I was waving off parents-teachers, while she assumed responsibility for not getting glue on anything, holding that hand up out of the way. Only then, only after she'd completed her tour of the room to see what was happening did she go over to where we have a laundry basket full of towels and use one to wipe her hand.

I would trust Maya to carry an Easter candle; look how responsible she is. I would trust Violet to boil-dye a batch of blood red eggs. Children are as competent as we allow them to be. They step up to the responsibilities in their lives, but only when we leave them enough freedom to assume them on their own. I hear a lot of people this time of year saying things about the "real meaning of Easter." The part of that real message that I always took home with me as I carried my candle through those dark streets was the part that said: "Be not afraid." 

It's a good message because it's only when we can move beyond fear that we can trust. And trust is what our children need from us.

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chelle said...

Great Post! (as usual) Thanks for sharing.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing your tales of Easter in Greece, what beautiful images, and memories, you have!
Just about every day I have a moment where I must immediately remind myself to not be afraid, and I allow the kids to simply be. In those moments, they never cease to amaze me. Thanks for sharing!

Wendi said...

This is a powerful perspective. One that has encouraged me today. Thanks.

Deborah said...

Tom - make sure your yarn is rolled up into a ball! It will not get tangled quite so easily if it is in a ball rather than in a skein:)

Kristin said...

Amazing post! Thank you for sharing...I loved it!