Even by the standards of Waldorf School emails, it was serious. Something called “The Garden of Light” was coming. And to prepare for it, “children were not to wear loose flowing dresses and long hair should be tied back.” My daughter is pretty much basing her identity on long flowing dresses and her hair at this point, so this was not going to be an easy sell.
In addition to the ominous email, I was asked several times by Ronia’s teacher if I was going to be able to go. In general I feel like a slacker Waldorf parent, so any opportunity to curry favor is good. Plus it’s nice to see my kid during the day.
Before I left, I reread the email one more time. It was more ominous than I even remembered, directing us to sit apart from our children to maintain a festive atmosphere. My enthusiasm dimmed a bit; this would mean I would be sitting with other parents. Also, it seemed to imply that I should have dropped Ronia off as normal, instead of keeping her home and cooking pancakes to the 9:40 drop off time. Fortunately the previous Garden of Light was running late, I was able to get Ronia to class and hurry up to the queue of parents. I sat down on the only available chair and checked my smartphone email.
When the appointed time came we were led into an auditorium lit only by candles. The floor was covered in a spiral of pine branches, or as the email got me thinking, kindling.
My child’s nursery school teacher read a poem about the dying and return of light, that would have worked well at any nonsectarian Hanukkah celebration, and lit a candle in the center of the room. One by one, the children filed into the spiral to light a candle from the Waldorf Shamesh, and placed it somewhere in the spiral, all accompanied by the piano.
Since Waldorf has a very age-inclusive kindergarten, these were 3-6 year old children. I realized Ronia, who I didn’t let light her Shabbat candles yet, was going to take part. The most direction so far any children had needed was the first one, who was waved through by the teacher from the outside.
And then, it was Ronia’s turn! I was shocked at the surge of parental pride. I felt like I was at a little league game. My heart flowed as she stopped as the candle died down and resumed as it flared up again. Her only flub was to make a wrong turn after setting down her candle and heading back into the Shamesh, but hand waves from the teacher eventually righted her.
As I will still beaming, I noticed that the last kid to go was having difficulty. Unexpectedly, she needed to be walked by the hand. My daughter’s teacher has close-cropped hair, but was still wearing her trademark Waldorf skirt, which flared up as she walked through the spiral now filled with 3-6 year-olds’ candles.
A parent with far more presence of mind than I had yelled the teacher’s name, and with an incredible poise she stamped out the flames before they did any damage. You’ve heard of “teach like your hair is on fire?” Skirt works too.
The teacher asked us not to say anything about what happened to the children so as not to scare them for next year since they hadn’t noticed. I asked Ronia later if anything had happened, and she said, “Ms. Patricia’s skirt caught on fire!” But as per usual, she was unfazed. Oh, my light-giving, fearless child. At the end, I came away so proud that my child has recently invented rituals such as these that teach her to manage risk so well. Even when I don’t understand it, I defintely already see the payoff of allowing children a little bit of danger, prophylacticlike it so they can deal with this scary, scary world.