Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Gift of an Ordinary Day

"Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.  Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart.  Let me not pass you by in some quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.  Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so."                                                                                                           -- Mary Jean Iron 

Oh, the beauty of the ordinary day!  I know I treasure ordinary days so much more since Patrick had leukemia...a day NOT in the hospital, a day NOT focusing on fevers or weird symptoms or reactions to chemo... a day where everyone is home and busy living a regular old life.  To me, that is a slice of heaven.  But lately, my ordinary days have been filled with one big event after another in such a way that it feels like the dominoes falling one after another at an astonishing rate.  They fall so fast that it is hard to appreciate their perfect positioning, their colors changing, their incredible design...all I can see is a blur.  Today was another one of those blurry days and I need to write it down, if only to savor it and get the chance to look back on the domino spill and see the intricate pattern and the beauty within what looks to any outsider as a giant mess.

Today was Caroline's birthday.  That alone would make this day full of sunshine and joy.  Remarkably, her birthday fell on a school day (she only goes three times a week) and so today was also her "Special Day" at school.  This means that for one day, preschool was all about her.  She created the theme, Popsicle Day, and many activities centered around it.  She was the Guest Teacher.  She chose the morning song and the book to be read at Circle Time. She wore a crown and the crowd sang to her.  She was honored, cherished,  and celebrated just the way every single person on the planet should be and in truth very few ever are.  I love the way her school takes the time to do this.  It costs no money.  It really doesn't change the school day at all. It is a very clever way to make one student feel important, noticed and appreciated for their individual beauty.  Most importantly, that boost lasts.  Conversations for weeks and months follow about that Special Day.

Because this is Caroline's last Special Day at DCCNS, every single part of the day seemed extra bright for me.  The parents stopping and wishing her a special day, the kids following suit.  The crown, hand-made by me at our first parent meeting in September, brought out and worn with pride.  The red chair, the sign out front of school informing the world of the Special Day. All of it made me appreciate this little haven once again. How blessed my girl is to have gotten this start to school.  How blessed I am that these strangers in the beginning, now are friends and have grown to appreciate my child and treasure her too.

After the parent meeting Caroline and I rushed home from school, took Buddy for a quick walk and headed off to Patrick's school.  Today was my last day to teach art with Patrick's class.  I have been teaching art once a month to these kids since they were in kindergarten and pregnant with Caroline.  So it only seemed fitting to have my last time with them be on her birthday.  Hand in hand, Caroline and I walked down to school, found the paints and paintbrushes we needed, popped the masks off of the molds we used and headed down to the classroom.

A few days ago, the fifth graders used paper mache over a mold to create masks.  We learned about all the ways masks have been used in different cultures.  We saw examples of masks form all over the world and even had a mask from Mexico that the students could look at up close.  Our theme for the lesson was the wisdom from Miss Frizzle, the unusually creative teacher from the Magic School Bus books.  Her words: 1) Take chances 2) Make mistakes 3) Get messy!  For me, that is a good motto for life and fifth graders are just beginning to see the benefits to playing it safe, staying clean and avoiding failure.  I wanted my lesson to be a little counter cultural.  I wanted to plant a few seeds that maybe mistakes aren't so bad, that taking a risk might be worth it and that getting messy is way more fun.  Happily, they dove right in to the paper mache and held nothing back.  They got creative, focused and enjoyed the process.  Watching them quietly each in their own world smoothing the newspaper with the starch, I remembered their cave art from kindergarten, their Thiebaud inspired ice-cream cones from first grade and the many, many days I was privileged to share an hour or two in their classroom with them.

This group of students has been the first group in our school to have a child with a disability right alongside them learning.  They have shown time and again what a beautiful group of people they are.  They are remarkably inclusive -- helping each other and reaching out.  They are tolerant, patient and super smart.  I see them as the pre-adolescents they are today and can't help but notice the shadow of the innocent wide-eyed kindergartener that they were just a few years ago hiding behind their wiser eyes.  They have embraced Patrick and I forever hold them close for that.  They have put up with my art ideas and welcomed me with enthusiasm for years.  I will miss them but I will pass the torch of art education to a real artist and a fantastic teacher and I will work alongside of her, glimpsing the teen-agers-to-be now in junior high.

I didn't have too much time to linger or get nostalgic.  There was paint to clean up, brushes to clean and masks to find a home for.  Once we got home, I wrapped a few gifts for Caroline and made my peace with the idea that a perfect birthday dinner was not in the cards for my birthday girl.  Why?  Because in addition to Caroline's Special Day and Patrick's last art lesson, today was also the semi-final game for Jack's volleyball team.  Winning this game would put them in the championships for the whole region.

Tonight's game was a bitter match up.  Many of the players knew one another from playing club ball in the off season.  Several of the guys from the other team would be playing volleyball in college and were bitter that Jack's team had beaten them during the regular season.  They wanted redemption and they were gunning for them.  It was going to be a battle.

The starting line up of Jack's team was made up entirely of seniors.  They had worked for four years to get to this point.  Jack, the starting setter, hadn't even made the team as a freshman.  He was a "freshman manager" meaning the coach saw something in him that had potential but he didn't want to give him a spot on JV.  He had the chance of going to practice with six other "managers" and playing side by side the JV but having only one or two games all season long.  He took it and loved it and knew that volleyball was going to be a life long love.  He played club ball in the off season and drastically improved.  Three years later, he was the one calling the shots on the court, setting the hitters up for crushing spikes and serving up a series of unanswerable serves.  Tonight would be huge for him.

We decided to attend the game as a family, even though it would be a late night for Patrick and Caroline.  Just before we left, we sang Happy Birthday to Caroline and watched her open her gifts.  We threw on some red and gold and headed out.

The tension in the gym was already noticeable as we entered.  Blissfully, Patrick and Caroline opted for a snack bar hot dog, some raisinettes and cheetoes for a sub-standard birthday dinner...something's got to give on days like today!  The other team came out roaring and before we knew it, we were behind by five points and giving serves away.  Our side was quiet and their side was dominant.  Spikes hit inside the ten foot line.  Our blockers missed.  Our serves went in the net.  We were listening to their trash talk and we weren't answering back.

At one critical point, Jack was up to serve.  Patrick was cheering with gusto and to me it sounded like he was saying, "Jack, you're the greatest!!!"  I was touched.  I leaned over and said, "Patrick, it's so great you are cheering, are you telling Jack that he's the greatest?"  He looked over at me with a doubtful expression.  "No, mom, I'm asking him: Do you believe in fairies?" I busted up.  Hopefully, by now, you know of Patrick's intense enthusiasm for things having to do with Peter Pan.

It was classic, at this intense, critical moment Patrick was reminding Jack of the magic available to him.  If you just believe, it can happen.  I couldn't stop laughing and the question/cheer became mine for the rest of the night.  Over the din of the crowd, together Patrick and I asked, "Do you believe in fairies?"  We whispered it to each other.  We looked knowingly at each other when something magical happened on the court.  We knew that a little fairy dust could go a long way.

And, yes, it did.  Losing game one only solidified Jack's team's determination.  They fired up.  They hunkered down...diving, jumping, spiking, digging up impossible balls and leaving it all on the court.  They won the next three games and Caroline learned to count to 25.  She had her fair share of cheering and snacks. Together Patrick and Caroline rushed the court when the final point was scored.  Jack had a fan club and two adoring fans who wouldn't leave his side.  It was awesome!

And then in a matter of minutes, just as  quickly as it had begun, the net was taken down, the gym was emptied out and our family of six went out into a rainy night.  We were worn out and enthused but filled to overflowing with a gift of another ordinary day.  May it always be so.

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