Otis was overcome with anticipation (and a clear need for even more loving) as we prepared for our second visit to the fabulous Haywood Elementary School.
Upon our arrival, the ever-gracious, awesome teacher, Miss Jan Crowder, welcomed us to her familiarly colorful, inviting classroom, where we were consumed with hugs and giant smiles, like friends of a lifetime. And by now, we are!
For this trip, we brought a small entourage… my husband and perfect partner-in-adventure (Robert), my daughter (Ella), my oldest son (Paul Kent), his very cool pal (Noah), and of course, Otis and me. I could hardly wait to introduce my new friends from around the world to my crew. It would be a great morning, I just knew it!
We arrived a tad bit early, for we wanted some special moments with Miss Crowder and her class. I wanted each child to know how much I will always treasure their stories they wrote for me. (See Part I)
Would Rayan feel calm in petting Otis this time?
Would Martin’s smile make my heart jump again?
Had Shing learned even more English skills?
Would Omina’s eager eyes still be sparkling?
And sweet Musharaf… would he be afraid of Otis…?
And what about Fatema, who had been absent during our first visit… could we meet her?
All in a whirlwind of introductions and how-are-you’s, my wonderings were answered: Rayan’s confidence glowed… had he grown already?
Martin smiled, and my heart jumped and melted all at the same time.
Shing carried my basket of books and chatted like an old chum.
Omina met me with arms outstretched, full of compliments and stars flashing in her eyes.
Musharaf… no fear, my friend… no fear! He approached Otis with bravery, hand outstretched, petting him with a gradual crescendo’s release of a boy’s love, like droplet after droplet of waters pushing on the gates of a dam, bursting open because they cannot hold tides that flow forth to drown fears.
And Fatema from the country of Jordan, a pleasure to meet, charmed us with immediate friendship and her outgoing personality.
This world-class family of students and their beloved Miss Crowder led us outside to Haywood’s amphitheater, where 200 first graders and their teachers awaited our arrival!
Where to begin, with 200 wiggly first graders? ADJECTIVES! We talked about our great big minds, and our own singularly awesome yarns that we weave with every choice we make. A plane or two flew overhead, and we talked about how HIGH and BIG and FAST and LOUD it was, and how WIDE its wings were.
Who has an imagination? Who has a story? That’s right… WE ALL DO!
After revealing the story of how Otis came to our family (see Ancestry of Otis), and how the book came to be (see Synopsis), we read a chapter from Otis Goes to School: “The Playground.” This particular passage finds Otis knee-deep in his secret school days investigations, observing his best girl on the kindergarten playground. She is Queen of the Clover for the day, sporting a crown of clover blossoms tied by her maids of merriment. (And off to my right, another clover queen with a chocolate brown ponytail and a baby blue shirt patiently listened and tied her own crown together… you can see the beginnings of it streaming down from her right hand, in the bottom left of the picture above.)
We read about Otis taking his own turn to zoom down the slide, catching playground zephyrs (see Vocabulary of Otis) in his flapping lips, landing with pride and pomp and circumstance befitting a Clover King, smiling all the way. We applauded each other, promised to keep dreaming and to put our summer stories to paper, and asked and answered a string of thoughtful, intriguing questions. This crowd brought their A-game!
And then, they formed a sight that I will always recall with amazement… in Otis Goes to School, Otis observes a “winding caterpillar” of kindergartners moving together in a line, to and from the playground. On this day, at Haywood Elementary, that very phenomenon came to be, with Otis at the front of the line this time…
These 1st graders were naturally, easily, abundantly friendly and happy. They high five’d with gusto, hugged without holding back, and shared the light of the world with me and my crew. By the end of our visit, I had heard from quite a considerable majority of the students that their summer plans now include storytelling and writing, and reading about Otis! That’s a music-to-my-ears way to end a school visit.
I expect wild creativity and plots that ring true for untarnished young hearts.
I expect the final point of punctuation to be positioned post-tale with pride and purpose.
I expect a lot, because these kids can do it. These children have a fantastic fire within, and they have the ability to follow their own “what if’s.”
Write on, Haywood 1st graders; write to your heart’s content, with all the adjectives you can conjure up, and then… oh please, and then… do let me read your stories!
And of course, lunchtime called again. We stretched our goodbyes back through the halls, past several grades’ worth of winding caterpillars, through the front office and out to the parking lot.
Before coming to Haywood, I had no idea what a jewel was tucked into a quiet little Nashville neighborhood. There is something special about this school, something vibrant and so alive. There is worth and promise and love and lots and lots of good in this school. There was a display of appreciation for others amongst these students. They saw their similarities before their differences… and the differences they observed, it seemed they celebrated. Would that their unintended example be a pattern for us as adults, for our country, for our leaders and the leaders of this world that is so near completely represented within the walls of Haywood…
To see through the eyes of a child, to love with the boundless capacity of a child… we are all born with those gifts. If we seek the most beautiful words we can find, put them to use in telling our stories, and listen to others as they craft their own, we will experience the kind of joy that lives and breathes and beats in the hearts of Haywood.
But for now… I wish you the greatest, most fun-filled, adventure-packed, water-park-ing-est, popcorn-and-movies-and-bicycles-and-ice-cream-and-firefly-catching-and-porch-sittin’-and-tall-tale-ing-est summer of all! And you can write.that.down.