I spent this afternoon at school. I walked around the playground with the kindergarteners and the third graders, all of us with smiles on our faces and Jingle Bells filling our throats. I gave star stickers to everyone who completed a lap, and then we started around again.
The whistle blew and half the crew had to line up to return to class, but the next cohort was leaving the cafeteria and they were ready to roll by the time the rest of us met them at the path. "Do you want to walk with us?" I asked, and then there were twenty of us, once again.
We passed the garden, and the teachers tending the plants grinned from ear to ear. We approached the pre-school nestled in the far corner and made the grown-ups supervising the play structure smile. Our trek past the monkey bars brought joy to the aide supervising the little ones. Then, the whistle blew again.
I knew the first graders who joined the march. They'd been in Ms Levine's kindergarten last year, and we'd shared stories in the loft and math centers at the tables. They have a proprietary air about them when they see me. They know me. I'm theirs.
"Hi, Grandma!" is guaranteed to put a smile on my face; repeated over and over and combined with arms wrapping around my legs, it's orgasmic. Of all the accolades sent my way, Official Adopted Grandmother of Prince Elementary is my most treasured.
So, we walked and we sang and I gave out more stickers after we completed a lap. I walked with a hiking pole to even out my gait; it fell to the ground as I dispensed the yellow stars.... and it was no where to be found when it was time to start walking again. In its place, there were giggles.
Two small, brown boys with untied shoelaces had purloined my possession. They were delighted with themselves. They were also properly abashed when a bigger girl scolded them for leaving me stranded. I stopped them there, and enlisted the rest of the crowd to supervise my gait without assistive devices. Did they think I could do it? Did I think I could do it? We were going to find out, and we were going to find out together.
I've cried in front of 20 million Dateline viewers. I've lit candles on a stage in front of thousands of Tucsonans. I've never been as nervous as I was right then.
Their faces reflected just how I was feeling - some were anxious, some were encouraging, some were certain I would succeed. All of them were watching me. They knew not to crowd in close; my pleas not to bump me had obviously been heard and learned. There was a moving circle of 6 and 7 year olds surrounding me, staring at me, judging me. I'd asked them to be alert to even shoulders and hips, to feet lifting off the ground and ankles bending and they took it very seriously.
The proto-felons were still laughing, hands covering their mouths, plots a-hatching.
As the outer edge of the circle reached the boys, they took off again, and my circle gave chase, and I was left to stride out after them, alone except for one round faced first grader with perfectly even bangs and cheeks that begged to be kissed. She was holding my hand, then a finger, then I had her finger, and by thinking about our hands and ignoring the pinching in my newly regenerating nerves I walked perfectly, precisely, deliberately all the way to the kids who had captured the stick-nappers and were returning their bounty to me with great ceremony.
It's the cheapest therapy I've ever had.
Written, with love, for the first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary. You will not be forgotten, little ones.