On Friday afternoon, 16 sets of parents descended on my classroom to participate in an annual Kindergarten tradition: Candy House Day. Created years ago as a part of our focus on holidays and celebrations, it has evolved into something more; something that helped changed my attitude towards the event. It has not, traditionally, been my favorite affair.
I am a tyrant for healthy foods in the classroom. I have a reputation in the school community of being borderline-ridiculous in my demand to keep junk food out of my sphere; a well-deserved reputation, I admit openly. When class parents offer to bring snacks, I send a list of acceptable fare: fruit, veggies, crackers, cheese, pretzels and the like. I have a list on my first parent letter of September as well, of morning snacks that will be allowed to be consumed by my charges. If a child brings in something not on the list, it will be saved for lunch. All the tears in the world won’t sway me, as I dash off another copy of the snack letter to the parents and highlight the list of allowed contraband. It’s all I can do to hold in a comment about the parents’ reading ability. If parents send in cupcakes for a birthday, the children eat them fifteen minutes before dismissal and then the families can deal with the sugar rush. My own children never tasted a sweet until they were probably four or five. I worked hard to develop their pallets towards a varied and healthy direction.
So to expect the junk food Scrooge to be thrilled to have bags and bags and BAGS of candy placed in front of my students goes against my grain at a cellular level. Even though the “rules” of candy house specifically state that the children are not actually allowed to eat the candy (a rule I find unnecessarily torturous and cruel and another reason I’m not a fan of this day- I don’t like to torture kids), I caught at least one child with his cheeks stuffed full like a hamster. His smile when he saw me looking could not cover his guilt even one iota. Candy is a kids’ drug and this kid, like most, are unashamed addicts.
Another problem I have with this day is the fact that, each year, at least two or three students have no family member show up to help. My mother or my husband will come in and be a rental dad or grandma, and I have teaching assistants who jump in happily; but you can’t fool a kid. Everyone else has a mom, or dad or a big brother or a grandmother or sometimes all four that shows up for them. It doesn’t help either when I tell these event orphans that I could almost never make it to my own children’s school events because I was working, and that I know how they feel. Nothing can take away the loneliness and even shame as the other kids are yelling, “mom!” “dad!” as each parents walks in, and no one shows up for you. This falls under the “I can’t save the world” umbrella, but still it hurts.
Finally, it’s the absolute frantic mess and chaos created by the sheer number of bodies in the room, the bowls and plates full of stuff spilling on the floor, the kids running wild in the room while the parents watch and say nothing, and the families who forget to send in the requested supplies causing me to either run out and buy with my own money or force the responsible ones to share. What’s to love about this day??
My friend and colleague helped me to see just what this day has become. In a way, it saddens me to see it and to accept my new role. I was venting to her after everyone had gone and the room was eerily quiet. I told her how much I dislike this event and how making candy houses is something families should do together, the kind of thing we loved to do with our kids, and she said, “yeah but they don’t.” Simple words that stopped me cold. They made me think about the parents who had shown up that day; some of them I had never even met before in spite of the fact that we had already done a Thanksgiving Show and finished parent-teacher conferences. I realized that most of those who showed up are working people who took the day off from jobs in the city to come spend forty-five precious moments with one of their kids. I thought that Candy House Day would probably be one of the things these little ones would hold in their memories for a long time; how it made those children whose families did come feel special for a few minutes. Mommy and me or Daddy and me time that they likely do not get too often. I remembered that, at my parent conferences when I suggested old-school board games as good gifts and good ways to spend time together, many of the responses showed that these adults had forgotten about such an activity. So, in addition to all my other hats, I now don Family Time Maven.
While we were involved in this activity, covered to the elbows in frosting, the events were unfolding in Newtown, Connecticut, in a classroom that resembled ours in a town that was as just as small and tight-knit as ours. News coverage was, at that point, very spotty and the story was changing every five minutes. Parents, receiving AP pushes on their cell phones, were whispering bits to each other and to me, and it was all I could do to keep repeating, “not in front of the kids.” At one point, I left the class to go to the bathroom and struggled to keep my lunch down and to keep from crying. As I write, two days later, more details about this unspeakable act of evil with no possible explanation are still developing. And it has put my newest role in a perspective I wish I never needed to have. Every second is precious; every stolen moment that families can spend together cannot be overvalued. If that has to come during the school day at a function that I help perpetuate, so be it. It’s a brave new world.