I just got 12 new kids in the program, 3 of whom I have wanted for a long time. They live in Alegria. They have been watching me for years, with shy, wistful eyes. Their father is an alcoholic who beats them and their mother, who in turn beats them. Now they are in my class and happy children for at least a small time. They confess to me that they found a rotting pumpkin and secretly carried it to the garden to see if it would grow. We wondered where that pumpkin had come from! Now it is sprouting everywhere. The redemptive power of gardens, art and growth, that’s what I should be thinking of.
Today I was planting in the gardens with my kids. The kids are so excited to see their pumpkins growing!
Jesus (names have been mostly changed to protect the guilty) and I were weeding and watering and disturbed an ant’s nest. We watched as the ants began rescuing their milky, clear eggs from a watery grave. I described the life of the ant. How ants milk aphids, (sometimes called ant cows) how they grow mushrooms underground and how they live as a society, queen, workers, nursemaids and soldiers.
Jesus’s eyes grew wide, “Weird.”
Sometimes the trust and belief in a child’s eyes makes my breath catch. We looked for aphids and I repeated the oft told tale of these parthenogenetic insects. Female that reproduce females, that reproduce females. Then at summer’s end some grow wings and morph into males.
“Weird.” We went looking for aphids. We discovered small flies of unknown species and a lady bug larva. Lady bug larval bear no resemblance to lady bugs. They look rather like a black and orange creepy, rubber Halloween bugs.
These kids love to plant and even like weeding!
I wanted to pull up some of the very, very, very large deep rooted grain plants that had grown from bird seed. They are OK, but now our garden is crowded with sprouting corn, pumpkins, squash and myriad wildflowers.
Jesus got into it. (I had heard that either he or his older brother had an “anger problem.” Well who could blame them?) At any rate he beat the chlorophyll out of that plant! He was an inspiration to a small army of children who took to the grains with a single minded ferocity. He and his older sister Azalea set upon the weeds with a fierce cry of “Team work!” They were so enthusiastic I set them lose on the uncleared parkways, dry and woven with crab grass. “Team work!”
There was a party at the apartment across the way. “Miss Elizabeth!” I recognized a father from Villa Esperanza where I had taught years before, but I did not recognize Daisy. She had been an adorable 5 year old. Now she was a delicate, long 19. She was starting Junior College with plans to transfer to Northridge.
They gave us large plates of food, cake and some muti-colored jello dish that would have been the envy of Salt Lake City. (Mormons are very fond of jello.)
It was about 8:40, time to go home. But where were my car keys? They had been hooked onto my belt loop…. The entire neighborhood turned out with key ring lights, flashlights that you had to turn just so and shake gently while humming a soothing “please light up.” House lamps on super, super double plus long connections of extension cords snaked in patterns of black and white down the street and into houses, nesting in outlets and flooding the parkway.
I finally called AAA and told them to come rescue me. I’d need a new key. It was going to cost a lot.
“What will you do Miss?” Jesus asked.
“Well, I’ll get the key. I have to” I said, but it’s very expensive.”
“Don’t they pay you to teach art Miss?”
“Well yes, but …”
“You could make some stuff and sell it…. We’ll help you.” The love was palpable.
Finally on a final hopeless 3rd time ‘round the basement search I saw the key, floating on a shallow sea of garbage. Earlier in the day I had wrestled a mattress into the garbage can. The key must have been knocked in. We all cheered and every one got a chocolate marshmallow bunny. Tomorrow we Easter egg hunt!
“I can’t pick up the eggs.” said Genesis. She is a smart, funny spunky child without legs and only one thumb. “You and mom can be my egg retrieval team, pick up the eggs, when I call them.”
“I’ll help!” chimed in Madelia, a dirty, wild 5 year old.
Very sweet, although I doubt that Genesis will get to eat many from that collection. Those eggs don’t have a chance!