I waited by the back gate to the playground this morning, watching as a pack of twenty three damp eight-year-olds came back up the hill– tossed from a broken-axiled bus no more than a block away. They shuffled up the back steps, hoods pulled, prisoners returning. No one looked up. Thick fog penetrated. Even the inside of jacket pockets got wet.
Clock said ‘recess’, but no one wanted to stay outside. All clumped just inside the doors in the entry hall, waiting. And cold came in with the kids. I saw child after child hunching down, looking for a way to get warm. Wet shoes, drooping back packs, soaked and drooping hoods. I heard one fifth grader calling out, “This sucks!”
When you’re a city kid, the loss of a chance to get out brings clouds darker than the typical gray. No hellos. No high-fives. Not a single hey, howdy, or what’s up. Defeat loomed.
As we stood there looking like losers, something my mom said to me as a boy came back. Honey, if ever you’re blue, start moving. It doesn’t matter what you do. Dance, walk, or just shake yourself. If you can move, you can hope, she once said. So, I started nudging the kids to jiggle, jump, shake it off, whatever. I started stamping a beat on the tile floor, walking along the hall, lifting hoodies the way a mechanic lifts the hood. The schedule dictated recess so recess it would be. It took everything, but I got kids to shuffle and even giggle.
Then, something caught my eye. I looked out a small, slot window in the center of the back door and noticed that, in fact, not all of us had come inside. A nine year old named Sylvia stood at the center of the kick-ball court, no hood, tank-topped, no jacket in sight. There, against the gray sky and the thick fog, she smiled and bounced a ball with a face that had an invitation written across it: Do you want to play? A huge set of white teeth as she smiled.
“Hey y’all. Let’s go outside. Sylvia’s out there and we still have fifteen minutes. More room outside than in!”
Kids looked at me, then at each other, and then toward the door. Sylvia winked from the outside, and radiated ‘yes’ and warmth and a spirit that lifted us no matter what the sky might be saying.
“Let’s get outside, everyone. We can do this!”
Moans rose up, but children shuffled out. Recess as an act of defiance began. A kick ball slithered through the puddles and a slip sliding game commenced.
The morning, the entire start of the day – came down to a couple of accidents. I wondered that maybe at schools down the hill, they found no one and nothing other than wet, dark, and down. But we broke through and now the bounce of the unpredictable brought back our groove.
I will call it the gift of the exceptions and the never-befores. Proof that you can re-work the ending of a story by re-cuing the beginning, and evidence that the day you have is the day you make. It came down to a bold little child who knew to look up, even when no one else remembered how.