Lanterns on the Water, Heron in a Tree

Last year the end of June’s school year was difficult. She was just distraught about leaving the Bugs class, leaving Andrea, and not going back to school for three long months. This year she’s taking it in stride. School ended on Wednesday and she has not shed a single tear about it.

In her three years at the Purple School, Leaves to Tracks will probably be the easiest transition. Unlike last year, she’s been through this before so she knows what it means to go on summer break and then come back to school. And unlike last year there’s no switch in teachers. Her Leaves teacher, Lesley, teaches Tracks four days a week and her Bugs teacher, Andrea, teaches it the remaining day. And unlike next year, elementary school is not looming in the near future. June’s one concern is that at the end of the summer she will have to give up napping because Tracks meets in the afternoon. (This is a concern I share. June’s still a regular napper—I don’t think she’ll give it up easily.)

The last week of school was full of fun. On Monday a ranger came and made a joint presentation to the Leaves and Tracks (the Tracks came early that day and the Leaves stayed late). She brought an owl, a box turtle and a corn snake. June was full of comments about the animals on the way home. The owl had just one feather, she said, but it still tried to fly. Just one feather? I asked. That couldn’t be right, I thought, but she insisted. (Beth later surmised it probably had just one wing, which made June’s comment that it had “had a hard life” make more sense, though I supposed an owl with just one feather would also have a hard life.) Corn snake smell with their tongues, she informed me, and the snake kept sticking out its tongue. She laughed heartily at the memory. Apparently it was a really funny snake.

June complained a bit about being tired on the walk home (it was forty-five minutes later than usual) but she held up and even wanted to watch some Dragon Tales clips on the computer before her nap, since she’d missed her show. I was glad she was able to stay up at least that late without falling apart because she will be attending a science day camp at her school three mornings next week and it lets out at 1:30, two hours after her normal dismissal time.

Wednesday, the last day of school, was a water play day. The kids came to school in their bathing suits and the co-opers sprayed them with the hose on the playground. It was actually a cold, drizzly day and I sent June to school with a long-sleeved t-shirt and a raincoat over her bathing suit to keep her warm. They did not head outside immediately but waited until later in the morning when it cleared a little and then they all came back inside to get dry again. The Yellow Gingko’s mom was co-oping and she said it was quite a job getting fourteen wet and naked children re-united with their clothes. By the time I picked June up it was raining again and the Red Gingko’s mom gave us a lift home. I remembered June’s last day of Bugs, also a cold rainy day, and how I carried her weeping through the parking lot of the school. Today she was sniffling a little about a skinned knee, but overall she was more interested in discussing what she would have for lunch and what she would watch on television than crying.

The day before everything had come home—her spare clothes, her journal, her art portfolio, the photo of her that hung by her coat hook, the little card with the Yellow Dogwood symbol on it that she stuck in the attendance board every day, and of course her lantern for the lantern launch on Friday. No matter how well prepared I am for the end of the year, the day the stuff comes home always undoes me, and it’s the little things like the attendance card that are the worst. I taped it to the kids’ door, underneath June’s hornworm symbol from last year and Noah’s painted turtle symbol.

Next year June will be the Great Blue Heron. Normally the kids choose their symbols for the year at the end of the summer, either during Andrea or Lesley’s home visit or at the ice cream social held at the end of August. But this year Lesley said there was a lot of discussion among the Leaves about what their symbols would be and she let the particularly eager ones make their selections early. Younger siblings are generally given first right of refusal of their older siblings’ symbols, but June wanted nothing to do with a hand-me-down track. She picked the Great Blue Heron, which makes sense because she has been really interested in birds lately, after they read some bird books at school this spring. She says she’s “a kid bird-watcher” and we are keeping a log of all the birds she sees.

At school a couple weeks ago Lesley and I talked about how June reminds us of the girl who was the Great Blue Heron in Noah’s class. Like June, she was a tiny little thing, but very strong-willed, and she loved nature. I remember walking home with her and how she’d be stopping to pick up acorns and leaves and pebbles just as June does. Lesley said this year’s Great Blue Heron is quite a strong personality as well. “The tracks find their children,” she mused.

Last week we saw actually a juvenile Blue Heron in the creek near the playground, a sight which is not unprecedented but not common either. And then, as June, Noah and I were walking to the picnic site for the lantern launch on Friday evening, we saw another heron, standing in the shallow water of Constitution Gardens ( (Beth was parking the car and she had the camera—so no picture.) We spread out our blanket and started snacking on watermelon and macaroni salad and cheese and crackers and we visited with other families.

The launch is such a lovely event that it’s really a shame I spend every single one getting stressed about the fact that it’s running so late and when are they going to start the program already and how outrageously late will it be when the kids get to bed? (Answers: It finally started at 7:35 and both kids were in bed at 9:25, about an hour late.) Beth told me I should just relax and she was probably right, so let’s just pretend I did.

It was a gorgeous evening of a gorgeous day, sunny and warm but not too hot. As we ate and listened to the presentations the light turned gold over the grass and the water. Presents were exchanged. The teachers got gift certificates and Lesley received a book of the children’s artwork and box full of intricate little hand-made figurines representing a scene from a Baba Yaga ( story—she’s a witch in a series of Russian folk tales that play an important role in the Tracks curriculum. Lesley was completely overcome by that last gift. It’s a special school that presents its lead teacher with a little witch’s house made of skulls for her year-end gift and reduces her to tears in the process.

The kids and families got gifts, too. Bugs got butterfly nets, the Leaves got jars for catching fireflies, the Tracks got sweet gum seedlings and all three classes got a book of the songs they sang at Circle Time or at dismissal and a DVD of pictures taken in the classroom over the course of the year. (Another difference from last year—June is not nearly as fixated by the DVD as she was last year.) Our family also got a birdhouse in recognition of Beth’s two years’ service on the board. When it was June’s turn to go up to Lesley and get her gift, she threw her arms around her and gave her a hug that went on and on and on.

As we headed over the bridge that leads to the launching site, everyone sang “Make New Friends, But Keep the Old.” And then it was time to put the lanterns on the water. They were beautiful this year. The last day I co-oped Lesley asked me if sequins were too tacky for the Leaves’ lanterns, but these are four and almost four years olds were talking about, so I shook my head. She went with them and the sequins glittered as the candlelight shone through the painted paper. Noah had wanted to bring his old lantern, but Beth said no–while alumni are encouraged to bring their lanterns to the Winter Solstice parade, at the spring event the focus is supposed to be on the kids who are either graduating or moving up a class. Anyway, when June abandoned her lantern after a few minutes of sailing it out into the water and reeling it back with the string, it was too much for Noah, so we let him sail it.

June meanwhile was busy climbing trees. There were a few just her size. As she stared out from the branches, I wondered what the Great Blue Heron was seeing out there in the distance, and what the she was thinking about and what will come next for her in her last year of nursery school, the last year of early childhood.