Inch by inch, row by row, someone bless these seeds I sow,
Someone warm them from below, till the rain comes tumblin’ down…
--“Garden Song” by David Mallett
There was no rain last night, just warm dusky skies that filled the leaves of the mulberry trees. But as the last chords faded, I thought how perfect a metaphor this song was for raising children, and how perfect as the original song for a school that has grown over a quarter century from seedlings planted in the living room of a private home, to a school of over 200 students in preschool through eighth grade.
Back-to-School Night is always one of our family’s favorite events of the school year. It’s a chance for the kids to run rampant through their play fields – no one timing their mile or waiting with a bell to call them back to class. It’s an opportunity for parents and teachers to catch up with each other after the long void of summer, to eat and chat as laughter rings through the dusk. It’s the first unofficial strings performance of the year, a casual prelude to the Winter Concert. The agenda is generally informal, with a few announcements, pleas for volunteers, and some fiddle tunes.
Last night was different. Last night we heard stories. Those stories were a sort of genesis tale, showing us the roots of the educational fruit our families reap – showing us where we come from, and where we owe it to those who came before us to go. For the 25th Anniversary of Davis Waldorf School, several of the founding parents and teachers of the school took the microphone.
They told us of opening the school in the living room of a private home when arrangements to set up house in Davis as a school fell through. We heard about the donation of the land where our school now sits, at the northwest corner of North Davis Farms, and the trepidation surrounding building on that land without knowing how the capital would be raised.
But, I think the best line was when our administrator, Kelly Brewer, quoted one of the founding teachers, Clifford Monks. When the school was preparing to move to a permanent site, Mr. Monks stated, “To build a school is to build a community.”
It’s a Hallmark card sort of idea: quaint, but out of place in a world of scheduled play and “virtual communities.” And, yet, to look around the school last night: at the tables of parents, grandparents, children, teachers, and friends spilling across the lawn; at the Almond house, a farmhouse donated to the school in the early years; at the rammed-earth classrooms, architectural phenomena in 1992, that have housed 19 years of children; at the new kindergarten wing, completed just in time for school last year; and at all of the faces, so familiar, faces that have pulled weeds, moved fences, painted, cleaned, driven on innumerable field trips, baked, crafted, and worked, worked, worked to make something magical for our children – well, I buy it.
It’s hard to see growth when you’re in the middle. Children sprout up by magic for family that see them only on holidays; to parents who feed, clothe, and nag, those same children often seem to be in a constant state of regression. Sometimes the only things seeming to grow in a garden are the weeds. Progress often feels like “one step forward, two steps back.” For parents who have stretched budgets to cover private school, sometimes the requests for volunteers overwhelm – ‘You want me to do another thing? –Is this really necessary? -- Can’t someone else do it? – Are all of our committees, meetings, and projects really getting anywhere?
Our eighth graders are nomads this fall; the portable building housing the eighth grade classroom caught fire on Labor Day. Classes started one day later. Until their new classroom arrives, the peripatetic eighth grade has divided their lesson time between the rooms of classes away on field trips and our new multi-purpose room, intended as a dedicated space for music and eurythmy classes, plays, and special events. It would be easy to become frustrated or bitter – new buildings, a new basketball court, and no eighth grade classroom? But, this is temporary. A brand new room will be arriving soon, and besides, we know where we came from – we began in a living room.
I’m not much of one for meditation or signs – I have trouble getting my brain to shut up even at my most peaceful, and my cynicism tends to take over in moments that are meant to be profound. But, this week, I sat through a guided mediation at a fall equinox event. The group leader gave us images of walking along a forest path, looking at the brilliantly colored leaves, the flowing stream. “Bend down and pick up a leaf,” she said. “Look at your leaf; what color is it?” Mine was scarlet. “There is a message on it; just for you. What does it say?”
It’s hard to see progress from the middle. In any endeavor: a work of art, raising children, building a school, planting a garden, sometimes all we can do is wait. Wait, and trust that our seeds are being kept safe and warm until the rain. Wait, and trust that we are moving forward – inch by inch.
And finally, because who can resist either John Denver or Muppets...