As I woke last Friday for Grandparents Day to the realization that yes, the temperature drop will, in fact, directly coincide with the buckets of rain heading into the area, I found an odd smile creep across my face. Maybe I was just delirious and my body picked laughter as it’s chosen defense mechanism. I was pretty tired. Or maybe I was just excited. I genuinely enjoy days like this, funny as that may sound. Maybe put those hands together, am I right?
There is something surreal about rain during big events here at Wheeling Country Day School. We’ve had flash floods during first days and film screenings. We’ve seen water rush under the doors with a gym full of kiddos. We’ve watched as our campfire extinguished just minutes after lighting on a fifth grade camping trip. We’ve chopped and salted walkways somehow turned to ice just as we’re dismissing for the day. The pressure is both immense and irrelevant in these moments. What can any of us do about rain anyway? We can’t control the weather, after all. Well, we can do quite a lot, I’ve found. While we can’t choose the weather, we can check the forecasts, over and over, and give ourselves (and our guests) the best guess as to what will come to be. And we can provide an atmosphere most well equipped to handle these circumstances. Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, that type of thing. And the fact is, when everything seems to be falling apart around us, we come together like no team I’ve ever been fortunate enough to be a part. We all pride ourselves on doing it all. You’ll find our head of school clearing clogged drains and our custodian welcoming guests. Our art teacher is our traffic cop and it’s our office manager that gets the ice and cleans the cuts. It’s in the water here, all the way down to the fifth graders opening car doors and starting the day with a laugh. There are job descriptions and titles, but there is only one us. So what can we do most of all? We can smile, as odd or excited or even delirious as that may be.
So there we were, 7:30 am, huddled in the community room for some last minute assignments before heading out to see our breath in the headlights bouncing from puddles in the road. In the gym, tables were loaded and chairs placed. A communal artwork waited for its participants in the corner. Cider warmed on the stovetop. In the classrooms, last minute Ts were crossed as teachers prepared to work their impressively preplanned magic. Fifth graders and parent volunteers waited around campus to guide and greet each grandparent as they stepped onto a more expansive campus atmosphere than most are prepared. In the community room, Mrs. H-L waited to present her first annual Cider Talk, in which she would set the tone for the day ahead. And of course, Mrs. Squibb cruised like a shark looking for prey in that shuttle. The place was humming and no one had even parked.
Grandparents Day is such a popular day at WCDS we can’t even house everyone in one sitting. By necessity we need to split the day into grade level visits. First, our morning was devoted to our youngest students in Early Education. These are the kids still called ‘the baby’ by many of these very grandparents. It’s an understandably emotional day visiting with these ‘babies’ as they describe in detail all the exciting things they get to do at school. And for the kids there is no better day than the day they get to lead Grandma and Grandpa (or Nuni and Papi, or Papa and Grammy, or Mimi and Papap) around the place all their own. There were photo booths, videos, slideshows, story times, and learning centers. There were hugs and laughs and high fives and even a few happy tears. And most of all, there were smiles. I walked room to room and back again snapping photos and taking a few videos. I was there with social media posts and end of the year videos in mind, and from the most packed JK4 classroom to the most free flowing Reggio Emilia centers in SK to the most filled laps and hugs from the little guys in JK3, I couldn’t help but get swept up in all the love.
Soon we would head to the gym for an adorable trio of performances. It was hard enough to find an extra seat in the packed gym, and borderline impossible to get a decent photo above the waving arms and cell phones set to record these most earnest of performers. And by the end it was tough to find a dry eye in the house from performers and audience alike.
All this before lunch.
The afternoon began as we could only expect, with the newest storm front hovering over the school like some kind of bit from the Truman Show, and our fifth grade greeters were replaced by eager staff members looking for some way to help. As the shuttle dropped off the next audience for Cider Talk 2.0, the guests were greeted by a makeshift awning made of a line of smiling teachers holding golf umbrellas leading to the presentation and a mug filled with warm cider. After speaking with Mrs. H-L and posting their thoughts on the What Stuck With You? board, grandparents were again ushered to their grandchildren to learn about their days. They played math games and again read stories, then mapped hometowns and shared artworks. Many in this group, however, decided to take a somewhat different approach to their time. They sat and spoke. They asked about their upbringing and the mistakes they’ve made. They asked them to describe themselves in elementary school and talk about how they’ve changed since. They asked for anecdotes about parenting and how they felt the first time they held their grandchild. And they did it in a variety of ways. Some recorded the audio on rocking chairs for a collaborative podcast and others interviewed their guests in the classroom while writing responses on questionnaires. It was heartfelt and enlightening, but even more than that it was deliberate. It was an entirely different way to experience school. And in fact, many participants remarked it was some of the most significant, meaningful time they’ve spent with their grandchildren to date.
After that, it was back to the gym for some more performances, each somehow tugging at the heartstrings even more than the last, until third grade came on with ‘When I Grow Up’ from the musical Matilda and brought the house down. Personally, I found myself retreating to the corner to get my act together.
As the curtain closed on another successful Grandparents Day, it hit me just how amazing this day is each year. It’s tough to put on, for sure. There are a lot of logistics and moving parts, not to mention people, and we have to manage everything from invitations to umbrellas. But it also demonstrates many of the best things a modern educational community can offer. It can facilitate a bridge over a generational gap that seems to grow further and further apart each day. It can challenge us to Think, Create, and Communicate on the fly and for the benefit of others, which gives us the chance to exemplify the sincere service we so wish to pass on to our students. It can allow you to still share your voice, no matter your age, in a crowded room by filling it with love. It can redefine failure as something to be embraced, not feared. And it can give families a deliberate moment to just sit and talk.
It was only fitting that after a day like that, and after hanging up with my own grandmother, I finally laid my exhausted head down for the night and drifted off to sleep…with a smile.