In February of 1989 magic wafted around the day care center at St. Olaf’s. It did not, however, start out that way. At the last minute my helper called in sick, and I was left alone to transition twelve toddlers from nap to play. I managed somehow to diaper and potty all of them, put their shoes on, and feed them a snack. I’ve taught secondary school and adults all my life, and without a doubt, this is the hardest job I’ve ever had…and the most fun.
Twelve toddlers, champing at the bit to get outside, ran around screaming at the top of their not so little voices. The fun had not yet begun. Salvation appeared at the corner of my eye- a left-over Christmas bag on the counter above their line of vision. It was shimmering red with teddy bears on it, a toddler’s ecstatic dream. With no time to let my mind entrap me, I grabbed the bag and shouted with all the delight I did not yet feel, “I wonder what’s in this bag?” On a dime, they screeched to a halt en masse and twelve contralto voices squealed, “I want to see, I want to see!” Wiley Witch that I am, I replied in my best teacher’s bribing tone, “You can’t see until you line up at the door!” They ran to the door, falling over each other’s tiny feet, so excited to receive this wonderful gift. What gift, I had no idea. I asked the question a few times, and the children guessed lions, and tigers and bears, oh my, giggles galore gallivanting around the room. Then brilliance struck. I pulled a camel out of the bag, picked up Katie with the twinkling azure eyes, put her on it, and told the camel to take her outside to play. Katie skipped out on the camel while the other children regaled me with a cacophony of delight. At about child number seven Zack’s mom came in to retrieve him and he burst into tears, “No, Mommy! I want my camel!” We had to let him hop on the camel and Mom went out to get him. What a switch. Play time that day, with children galloping about on a variety of animals, is forever etched in my memory. I pull it out whenever I am in need of my own play time.
The children knew the animals weren’t real, and they didn’t care. They expected nothing, and because of it, their adventure was more real than real, and the element of surprise carried them to another, holier place.
Waiting for the Camels