It was her first friend at the new school. Caitlin switched schools between first and second grade.
Wait, that’s not quite accurate. We yanked our oldest daughter from the ground of her elementary school, tore her from the soil into which she had been spreading roots over two years, and transplanted her to a new, and very different environment. And we did it the day before she was to start second grade. This was not a democratic parenting moment. Our reasons for the school change were complicated, and due in no small part to our perception of inflexibility on the part of the administration of her previous school. But, that’s no longer important; the old environment just wasn’t a good fit for Caitlin. She drooped and faded, her attention was poor, and we spent a lot of time hearing “I don’t want to go to school.” So, we decided to move her to sunnier ground.
At the time, our choice was not well-received by our little sapling. She had friends, she knew the routine, she even liked her uniform.
“But, you’ll get to do art all the time in the new school.”
“I can do art now.”
“Not like this; you really like art.”
“I’ll just do art at home.”
“I don’t like music.”
“Yes, you do.”
“I won’t like it there.” [To be fair, to this day, cello practice has been likened to POW torture, so she may have had a minor point.]
“You can climb trees!” Yes, this was my trump card. Since we were dressing for an interview with her new teacher, I needed to hit Caitlin with everything I had.
“Trees?” The dark cloud lightened by three degrees.
“Yeah, they let you climb them at recess.”
She found it when we stepped hand-in-clutching-hand from the car and walked across the play-yard lawn. Yes, lawn. The mulberry had a trunk that leant just enough distance between ground and lowest branch to give a challenge and was knobbly enough for footholds. The branches fanned into multiple cradling V’s. Caitlin looked at me. “Go ahead; climb it.”
“I’ll get in trouble.”
“No, they want you to climb them.”
She touched the trunk, her small palm feeling the edges of the knots, a private handshake. They hugged, and up she went.
Sixth grade waits for Caitlin this fall. She’s grown into the ground of Davis Waldorf School, stretching her branches out through the school. She’s the veteran now; she’s initiated two siblings into the mysteries of “Sissy’s school.” We no longer hear “I don’t want to go to school, and she’s talking about continuing on to Sacramento Waldorf for high school. She’s grown faster than her tree and made other friends.
The winds shift. Adolescence rushes our way. Caitlin’s closest (human) friend has just embarked upon a journey of her own as she moves with her family to New York. The tectonic shifts of puberty are shaking the social dynamic among the girls of her class. A new teacher will guide the class through junior high. And the tree…
Caitlin spends many of her free hours at school climbing trees or reading, or by preference, reading in a tree – in her tree. You can find her there, face hidden by a book, screened by the veil of leaves. Well, you could. The school is undergoing its own growth this summer; construction begins soon on a much-needed administration building, and new kindergarten rooms. Some of the trees are necessary sacrifices to the expansion. Caitlin’s tree sits smack in the middle of the new building.
She said her goodbyes at the end of the school year, raising an eyebrow from her perch in the branches at my suggestion of a “Butterfly”—style tree-in protest. No radical idealist, my daughter has a pragmatic mind. However, we received some hopeful news this week. The tree may yet be reprieved. One tree was selected for an attempted transplant. Caitlin’s tree. If it survives the move, her tree will sit in the amphitheatre formed by the junior high classrooms; it too will move on to sixth grade. Nothing is certain, but when we told Caitlin that her friend had a chance, a couple of quiet dimples replied.