Signatures tucked away and hidden under freshly painted and repaired baseboards. A carefully engineered rain drainage system buried under 10 tons of specially-selected and shipped sand in the sandpit. Gentle and informed support during difficult times. We leave our marks, we shape and care deeply for the environment, we take care of each other. Images and experiences -- snapshots -- of well-spent years working at a parent cooperative. I lucked into the Takoma Park Cooperative Nursery School seventeen years ago. A neighbor called me one day and told me she was taking her daughter to the two's Friday playgroup and wondered if she should pick up my son, Max, as well. I knew that another neighbor's children had attended the school and now I had another endorsement with a ride over! I held these "expert" mothers with 5 children between them in high regard. My answer was sure, and a carpool was born, nursery school for my oldest and then my younger, found, as well as a switch from a career in video production and scriptwriting for me was begun. But I didn't know all that then. All I knew then, was that when it was my turn to take them the following week, Max ran in to the classroom and was greeted by the only other boy enrolled that year with a "Max is here!". My first impression was the joy of seeing my child happy and welcomed. My lasting impression was that a very special community is created when we begin the conversation with that very specific joy.
In my experience, I have grown as a human and learned an incredible amount about so many things. If something happens, I have experts to turn to -- in the beginning of my association with the school, it was mostly about parenting. There were people who I felt were expert parents and many of these parents had rich experiences to share, in occupational therapy, in general education, and in special education.
As time went on and I found my new career path as teacher, I found that I could tap other areas of expertise -- fundraising, administration, coaching, marketing, community organizing, internet communications -- the list goes on and on. If I have a question, there is a whole team of people with diverse views to help me explore that question. I have learned to augment my own method of operation (I first see the forest and it is a grand forest, indeed, filled with shiny objects) with the method of operation of a whole host of experts in their fields. They help me see the trees and they also help me collect and display all of the shiny objects we find along the way.
In all honesty, this system does not always work for every family. And when it doesn't work we learn a lot, if not more, than when things are working smoothly.
"The strongest oak tree of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It's the one that stands in the open where it is compelled to struggle for its existence against the winds and rains and the scorching sun." - Napoleon Hill
When it doesn't work, for whatever reason, it hurts and we struggle alongside the families that struggle. We change what we can, learn from experiences, and in the end, I can only hope that the struggle makes us all stronger.
When it does work, it is usually the community aspect that sustains us, parents and teachers, as we all make our way through countless volunteer hours in support of the School and its children. The community aspect is inherited by the children and it enriches the educational program. When it speaks to us, we know that there is a long history of grown-ups who have done the same for us, and we are paying it forward for future generations. The community, working together towards creating magical moments in time for our children, is galvanized. We get what we need.
When I started with the School, we were located in the basement of a church where it had been located for several decades. The lease with the new owners was on precarious footing, the School signed its last lease agreement in 1999. An incredible moment in the history of the School found us in the position to purchase a former daycare located in a bungalow. This was made possible only through the hard work and creativity of member parents and staff. The extensive renovation of the interior and exterior spaces came full circle 10 years later as we paid off the mortgage and unveiled the final component of our outdoor playscape at our annual Garden Party and Art Show.
What a thrill it was for me to see the alumni from my early years at the School who came back to help us celebrate and tell the tales of the move, the renovation, and to celebrate the efforts of the current membership. It was a joy to now compare notes about our teenagers and their shenanigans. It was a refresher of why and how I got drawn in to this parent cooperative and of the many wonderful people I have met, learned from, and worked with over the years.
It was the joy that drew me in, the community that kept me, and it is the whole experience that sustains me. I will close with one of my favorite snapshot moments of how I learned to be a small part of the whole.
We have to cover our sandpit each day with a tarp. This tarp serves all kinds of purposes during play time or it is abandoned, slumped in some part of the yard. Either way, it is never near the sandpit when it is time to return it and every child loves the idea of pulling that tarp back into place. The child takes on this task with pure abandon and thrill over the floating or train-like chug-chug qualities and possibilities only a large blue tarp could offer to the creative mind while the adult approaches it with a lumbering sense of factory-like obligation. Many years ago, I had one of those epiphany moments thanks to that wayward tarp and the very special, freely-offered and welcomed, insight of a co-oping dad.
I had one corner of the tarp and a gaggle of exuberant children had another. We found ourselves on opposite sides of our large oak tree. I, adult, expected and voiced my expectation, that they would obviously come to my side of the tree. The dad said, "Why don't you go to their side?" These simple, and even more obvious, words play out in my head every single day.
I strive to, every single day, to let go, and walk to the other side with both adults and children, who think differently than me and, in the end, I get everything I need.