Friday, June 4, 2010

Walk to School Day deemed a success!

It was mostly coincidence, and partly just end-of-school-year pileup, that led to my being responsible for two large-scale events this week: the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon on Tuesday and Walk-to-School Day yesterday. Now both are behind me, and I can breathe a huge sigh of relief and hope that I never again have a stress headache like the one I had on Monday evening as I looked ahead to these two events.

With the luncheon behind me, I turned my focus to yesterday’s event, which was a bit more of a challenge. Within the past couple of years, our town has installed half-mile-long footpaths along the four major roads leading into the center of town. This enables us to take part in the statewide Safe Routes to School program, which sponsors a semi-yearly Walk to School Day. Our school has done Walk to School Day four times before – twice in the fall and twice in the spring – and my enduring memories of it are dance music blasting on the school plaza, ticker tape parades, and raffles in which kids won things like iPod Nanos. I agreed to chair the event this time around if the focus could be on walking rather than on prizes and rallies. Simplifying and omitting most of the hoopla, my co-chair and I put our efforts behind promoting the idea that we would provide chaperoned walks along all four footpaths, with designated drop-off spots, adult guides, and help at the crosswalks.

The problem was that I overpromised, a little. While it was a good idea, we didn’t get the volunteer response I expected. I scrounged up four adults willing to lead the walks along the respective footpaths, and at the last minute we found two more to staff the checkpoints at the entrance to the school (it turns out the Safe Routes program requires us to track how many walkers we have in each grade, so the checkpoints and the raffle tickets have a purpose in terms of collecting that information), but I didn’t have enough adults to assist at every crosswalk (our police department was willing to help, but it’s a small force and they couldn’t guarantee coverage everywhere we needed it), and I knew the guided walks would be a lot safer if there was more than one adult with each group.

So I greeted the day with a minor sense of dread. I’d set up and publicized an event that I couldn’t follow through with one hundred percent, and that’s not a good feeling. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that if any child had an unfortunate encounter with a car during Walk to School Day, it would be on my head.

Yet the event worked out well. Dozens of families showed up for it, which surprised me a little. When my seven-year-old and I reached the parking lot of the ice cream stand which was designated as our group’s starting point, I was relieved to see so many adults who planned to join us, and Holly was happy to see two of her good friends there. I expected to walk with her, but a five-year-old named Noah grabbed my hand and didn’t let go until we reached the door to the kindergarten building. And Noah was a slow walker. So Holly had her own walk with her friends.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and no one demanded to know where the amplified dance hits, pep squads or armfuls of swag from previous Walk-to-School Day events were. The kids and the adults alike seemed happy simply to have participated. Better still, later in the day I learned that even though my older child, who is on an earlier schedule than Holly, had planned to take the bus instead of walk, when he reached the end of our driveway, he saw two friends passing by and they called to him to join them, so he ended up walking as well.

With my two dozen young charges – including the sluggish but sweet Noah – delivered safely to school, I put on my headphones and looked forward to running home by myself, full of relief that the morning seemed to have been safe and fun for all involved. As I reached my car, which was parked at the ice cream stand, the manager came out to inquire about my parents and say he hadn’t seen them in a while. Then he told me to wait because he wanted to give me some ice cream for them and some for me. I couldn’t quite imagine eating an ice cream cone at 9:30 in the morning, nor did I know how I’d take cones back to my parents, but I dutifully waited, and soon he emerged from the ice cream stand not with cones but with two half-gallon containers. I took them home and put it in the freezer to take over to my parents later in the day.

Four hours later, alone in my house and still buoyed by the success of the event, I had an idea. How about an ice cream sundae?

I didn’t have any sauce on hand, but that was remedied easily enough. Some chocolate chips, a little heavy cream, a few grains of salt and a splash of vanilla in a glass bowl. Microwave for two minutes. Drizzle – okay, slosh – over scoops of vanilla ice cream.

Delicious. Celebratory. A wonderful way to sign off on Back to School Day and a very busy week.

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