It all started yesterday. I shoehorned myself out of bed and thought to myself, “It’s go time.” The Monday before Thanksgiving starts all of our arduous preparation for the big classroom feast. It’s not a time to call in sick (not that I do that often), or decide to have a bad attitude (though I sometimes do by the end of the day). It’s time to do the hard work of being present, supervising, divvying up responsibilities so that everyone gets a turn, and everyone takes part.
At school I choose my third grade kitchen helpers, and I explain what has to be done and by when, and they go to work. Yesterday they picked all manner of children to help with pealing exactly eighteen carrots, and 8 potatoes. To help with chopping three onions–while rubbing their eyes and pretending to sob. Someone chopped a bell pepper. Children sauteed, stirred, opened cans and boxes of broth. In the end we filled two crock pots of soup for our feast and turned them on. That all happened yesterday.
This morning I shoehorned myself out of bed again, gave myself the same pep talk, poured the coffee (as much as would go into my thermos) and headed to school. On the way I was busy just being amazed by “The Way” I get there. To get to school from my house I just get on the greenway and ride it to the southern end, which connects to my school. When I’m late I take the hard hill. This morning I was late. I met my teacher (Ann–I call her my teacher because she’s taught me stuff along the way), right as the bell was ringing and we got to class just in time to unlock the door for the three children who’d already arrived.
On the Tuesday of the feast, so many things have to happen. The corn muffins must get made, the salad has to be prepared and tossed, the room and outdoor picnic tables need flower arrangements and tablecloths and decorations. The desserts must be laid out just so, and the plates, silverware and napkins need to be available. I chose another group of third grade cooks to manage it all and someone to butter the muffin pans. Also, someone has to churn butter. It’s my job to make sure that when tablespoons are needed, they are using tablespoons and when teaspoons are needed, they are using teaspoons (occasionally tablespoons of baking powder or salt get used in place of teaspoons while I’m not looking, and nobody has time for that the day of the classroom feast).
While all that is happening, everyone must trace and cut out a leaf on construction paper and write what they are Thankful for. We will say these things when the parents arrive and we are all sitting around giving thanks.
This morning everything got done just on time–not early. Just on time. Right on time I remembered the salad needed dressing, and there were dirty muffin tins on the counters. So I dressed the salad myself and hid the muffin tins (I almost forgot to unhide them during cleanup). Also right on time I realized that the “butter” was just between the consistency of butter and whipped cream, so I stuck it in the freezer until lunch was served. I came out of the kitchen to parents coming in and sitting down, all the tables tableclothed and flowered, and everyone calm enough for having had such an unbelievably busy morning.
That is when we stopped and listened to each other giving thanks. Children were thankful for oxygen, families, a primary teacher who taught them to read. They were thankful for water and pets and younger sisters and brothers. For time to play and math lessons, for trees and outside time. I was listening and I’d been moving so quickly all morning that even though I hadn’t had a second to think until then, suddenly my eyes welled up in an understanding of how grateful I am for every day. When it was my turn I was thankful for my daughter, who is doing such bold and wonderful things in her life, and for the rest of my family. Then I was just thankful for my school. I’m on my 14th year here. I am still learning as much as I teach at least, and then some. I’ve been here so long now, the people here are family, and it isn’t a “Job” in the traditional sense. It’s my life. I thought for a few minutes of how very thankful I am, how very happy I am to have landed in this loving home.
After we had feasted I was talking to a parent about what a blessing it is to have this school, this place for her daughter to learn. We look out from our windows at school, onto a schoolyard of trees and grass that connects to a creek and greenway. I looked up just then as that mother was talking and a hawk flew overhead.
I am so thankful for this crazy time, this busy, wonderful time of helping children find a way to make a special feast for their families, when everyone comes together and gives their best and their time to one another. It’s a sweet and exhausting gift of showing love and being loved in return.