Summer is here. I’ve felt it coming for weeks. First, the snow melted … finally! Then, the birds appeared. They built houses in our trees, in an old fence post, and even in our rafters.
Next, the daffodils bloomed, then the tulips, and finally the irises. White, happy faces that greeted us when we looked out to the backyard.
The lilacs arrived in force, floating their heavenly scent on the breeze. “Lolli-locks,” my daughter mistakenly called them, and I pictured purple lollipops all around us.
The fruit trees also came alive. The cherry tree blossomed first, followed by the apple trees, and finally the pear trees. Pink and white petals blowing on the wind until the green leaves arrived, bursting out over the branches at an astonishing pace.
But the best and surest sign of summer is the end of school. First came the grueling tests.
“Will I pass my AP Biology exam?” worried my teenager.
“I can recite all of the states and capitals,” reported my proud 5th grader.
“I’ve learned all of my sight words,” smiled my kindergartener.
Once the exams were finished, the partying began. School field trip permission slips were coming out of my ears: to the Children’s Museum, to the Dinosaur Park, to the Heritage Center, to the Trampoline Amusement Park. I’m not entirely sure what all of the "academic reasoning" was behind the activities, but they certainly bred excitement in my students!
Yes, tests and field trips are common signs of the onset of summer. But I'll never forget one year when we had a unique “end of school” event at our new country elementary school.
“Monday is pet day!” exclaimed my ecstatic 2nd grader, skipping into the house one afternoon during the final month of school. “We can each bring a pet to show the class.”
“Wow,” I gulped. “What kind of pet?”
“The teacher said any pet," she explained, and was silent for a moment. "I thought I would take a goat,” she concluded dreamily. I immediately had visions of myself pushing one of our stubborn goats into the back of our family van, and then arriving at the school with five children—and a goat—in tow.
“Oh, please …” I prayed silently. “Don’t choose our goat.” Luckily, my 2nd grader had already thought things through.
“He might make a mess, though, like Charlie’s goat did last year." She paused and concluded, "I don’t think a goat would be a good choice." I heaved a sigh of relief.
“Maybe I’ll take one of our chickens,” she continued. I had to admit, transporting a chicken to school would be much easier than transporting a goat. Still, show-and-telling a chicken wasn’t my favorite idea. What if the chicken jumped out of my daughter’s arms? What if it ran pell-mell through the school and I had to chase it, while holding the baby and dragging the toddler twins along with me? I closed my eyes and prayed again before I spoke.
“Well,” I said calmly. “Let’s keep thinking of our options.” She was quiet for several moments while she turned a few cartwheels in the kitchen (2nd graders transport themselves solely by cartwheels and skipping).
The blood rushing to her head must have given her a spark of inspiration because she suddenly stood up and smiled.
“I know! I’ll take my roly polies to school!” She was out the door and back in a flash, carrying an old ice cream bucket. In the bottom she had spread a bit of dirt and leaves. There, among the debris, were five or six black pill bugs.
The sight of them turned my stomach, but I put on my warmest smile and said, “That’s a great idea! Then you can carry your pet to school by yourself!”
“Uh-huh!” she answered happily and skipped out the back door. I wiped my brow. One school pet day solved.
But, I shouldn’t have counted my “chickens” before they hatched. By Monday morning, all of the pill bugs in the ice cream bucket were dead.
“I can’t take a dead pet to school,” my disappointed daughter wisely concluded. The pet chicken seemed like our next-best option. With the help of my older children, we hurridly caught one of our free-range chickens and tucked him into an orange box. Chicken in box was loaded into the vehicle, along with backpacks and school children. The box top had open slots, and the confused chicken put his head up through the holes “bok-boking” in a strained chicken tone and peering at his new surroundings. My infant daughter, buckled into the seat near the chicken, couldn’t have been happier with her new riding companion. I could see her one-year-old brain telling her that this day was definitely not going to be mundane.
Arriving at the school, my fears about a pet chicken being "extreme" were immediately put to rest. Second graders and their “pets” were gathered in a noisy crowd on the playground. Pack goats (the size of ponies), HUGE dogs, rats, ducks, and even a baby cow were among the display. A single chicken in an orange box was definitely on the conservative end of the pet spectrum in our small country town.
One by one the pets were introduced by their proud caregivers to the admiring crowd. I'm sure a more entertaining sight could not have been found anywhere in the west that day.
When it was my daughter’s turn to show and tell, she confidently held her chicken up.
“What kind of a chicken is it?” asked one student.
“I dunno,” she answered.
“What does it eat?”
“What’s its name?”
“I dunno.” But then she added brightly, “Thirty-one of our baby chicks were killed, but this one lived!” (Was that reason enough for not naming it?)
And then the show-and-tell was finished. The chicken was coerced back into his orange crate and we rode home--minus the school children. Toddler twins unloaded. Baby unloaded. Chicken unloaded and let out to his happy field once more. One exhausted Mama ready for a nap. And one unforgettable 2nd grade pet day complete. Yep, school can end now and summer is officially here!