Monday, November 02, 2015

Many Hands

Many hands make light work. ~John Heywood

This how the Woodland Park Cooperative School does Halloween, probably the highest of our high holidays, the others, in calendrical order being MLK Day, Chinese New Year, and Valentine's Day.

We spent the two weeks leading up to the big night discussing our costumes and making decorations. Then we all dressed up in those costumes, gathered at the school in the evening with tons of food, including too many sweets, and when I say "we all," I mean our entire community that grows to 100 or more children when one includes older siblings and alumni, and at least as many adults. It's an event that seems to grow bigger each year. The center of the festivities take place in what we call the Cloud Room, the Fremont Baptist Church's social hall, a room with a stage and one whole wall lined with mirrors. I set up the classroom simply, with crayons, play dough, what we call "the crazy floor" (large foam blocks interspersed randomly under gym mats), and corn starch packing pellets in the sensory table. The new kindergarten room was open as was the outdoor classroom.

This year, Elijah's mom Unique put together a Halloween themed photo "booth," with small straw bales and a spooky back drop. Elizabeth's mom Susan organized a silent auction that has become an important fundraiser for our school: local businesses, sports teams, and other organizations donate nice items, but the highlights are the handmade, personal and one-of-a-kind experiences that can only come from our community. Devrim's mom Funda set up a jack-o-lantern vomiting guacamole. Every family contributed something.

Grandmas, grandpas and close family friends joined us. More rarely seen spouses turned up, most in costume. And I must say that this is one of the coolest aspects of our annual party: there's a lot of peer pressure to get the adults to at least make a gesture toward a costume. The kids definitely appreciate this and it raises the importance of this night for them when even daddy/mommy who never dresses up is in costume. 

What do we do? We arrive, talk about our costumes, eat food, trash the classroom, take a lot of pictures, get a little overwhelmed, calm down outside, plunge back in, sneak an extra cupcake, and generally be carried away by the night. And we go home exhausted. At least that's how I experience it. In the coming days, children will tell me, conspiratorially, "I had four sweets," or earnestly, "It was too loud," or eagerly, "Let's do it again." We will spend this week rehashing the event, talking about the moments we were excited or frightened or sad or angry. We will discuss what the "big kids" did or what the "little kids" did and begin to plan our costumes for next year.

The highlight for me, the moment I live for, my absolutely most shining moment, is when I get to lead circle time for our entire community. This year, I wore my pink bunny costume, a beautifully sewn thing, with gray "fir" around the cuffs and around the paisley ears. I'm very fond of that costume, but it's damned hot in the best of times, a feature that is compounded by being in a tightly packed room. I sit on the stage and call the children together. I can't describe how magnificent it is to look into the faces of these children I know and, raising my gaze to look just beyond them, the faces of the families who make up who we are.

We sang "Jump Jim Skeleton" and "Roll That Pumpkin Down to Town," and "Itsy Bitsy Spider." We did a few of our anthemic felt board songs and chants, altered to honor the holiday. We sang "If You're Happy and You Know It" using the jack-o-lanterns we've carved in recent days to represent "happy," "sad," "angry," "surprised," "silly," and "pirate," as props. I love nothing more than catching the eyes of alumni students who are now first or second graders, singing lustily along.

I am, by this time, every year, in a full-on sweat, red of the face and wishing I were wearing the more lightweight "sexy" version of whatever costume I'm wearing. Jack and Henry's mom Katie brought me a glass of water. My voice is still feeling it. We may have to rent a sound system for next year -- it's hard projecting over the hubbub of a party.

After this year's "show," I wandered into the classroom. Holy cow. The place was, as previously mentioned, trashed. Now understand, we've been holding this event for quite some time now, and I thought I was prepared, but the state of the classroom was really something. This was going to take hours to set back in order.

I started by picking up one thing and put it back where it belonged. Then another. Soon, without anything being said, one of the fathers joined me, scooping corn starch pellets from the floor back into the sensory table. In another corner of the room another parent began to put away the play dough. Another parent started tidying up the art table. Grandparents and friends pitched in. Before 5 minutes had passed, a dozen adults and at least as many kids were, again without comment or instruction, putting things away, sweeping, organizing. Those hours of work were compressed into 10 minutes through the power of many hands.

When I walked back into the Cloud Room, a similar thing had happened in there: the decorations were down, the tables and chairs were stashed away, the floor was swept, the garbage bags carried to the dumpster. Same with the kitchen where we held the silent auction and the kindergarten room. Even the outdoor classroom was re-set and ready for the following day.

I was the last to leave. As stood in our empty space, lights off, it was hard to believe that the evening had happened, that only moments before we had been laughing, feasting, posing, sweating, singing, and dancing together, all of us, celebrating the magic of many hands. And, as I stood there, dressed in street clothes for my bus ride home, I realized that this is what we celebrate every day at our little cooperative preschool.

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1 comment:

Catriona Gill said...

What a gift you are to them.