The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 30, 2008


In our hands – whether we want it or not

If you have never seen the Great Kapok Tree – or, as it is more commonly known around town, the kindergarten rainforest play – and want to be surprised by the ending if you do someday see it, then do not read any further.

Because what I find myself thinking about every spring as the school year draws to a close is the finale of the rainforest play, when the whole kindergarten stands on stage together – a real auditorium stage, in this case, all together for the first time, whereas the various performances they’ve done earlier in the year take place in their classrooms – and sings, “We’ve got the whole rainforest in our hands.” Seeing it and hearing it always makes me cry. In fact, just thinking about it makes me cry.

The younger of my two children is in kindergarten this year, so barring any unforeseen events in my future, I’ve attended my last rainforest play as a parent. No matter: there are adults in town like my friend Laura who continue attending every year long after their own offspring are on to other events, such as middle school concerts, high school musicals, law school graduations. I can still go in future years. And I’ll still cry when they sing, “We’ve got the whole rainforest in our hands.”

Because more than any other song my children routinely sing, it speaks so profoundly to the reality of their childhood. Having the whole rainforest in your hands – including, as the song goes on to say, the eagles and the butterflies; the monkeys and the jaguars; the boas and the beetles – would be an awe-inspiring thing indeed.

But it’s also a responsibility of mind-blowing proportions. The whole rainforest! All of those exotic animals, but also all that oxygen and water the rest of the world relies on. The cacao beans for chocolate. The plant roots and blossoms for medicines. The whole rainforest? In my hands? It’s too much, I want to say. Somebody help carry it.

They do have the whole rainforest in their hands. At the time they sing this song each year, they have six more weeks of kindergarten to go. And then eight more years of school in Carlisle, and then high school, and then college choices for the kids and college tuitions for the parents. All as precious and rare and frightening to me as being responsible for the life of an exotic butterfly.

Meanwhile, we too have the whole rainforest in our hands: a truth both wondrous and terrifying. We’ve got the school building project in our hands. We’ve got decisions about tax money in our hands. We’ve got the dilemma over 40B housing in our hands. Which is different from having it on our hands. Having something on your hands makes it merely a task: something you are responsible for carrying out. Having something in your hands seems much more complex, to me. Like a butterfly you capture from the rainforest, it’s yours to hold gently and nurture, or to toss into the breeze and hope it flies away, or to suffocate by squeezing too hard.

It’s too much responsibility, I sometimes want to say. I don’t want the whole rainforest in my hands.

But the kindergartners don’t see it that way as they sing. They know the value of each living creature in the rainforest. They’ve spent weeks learning about every layer in the ecosystem and how it all functions together. “I’m not going to print any more pictures on the computer,” my daughter Holly informed me recently. “Using paper kills trees, and I love trees. I also love oxygen, and trees make oxygen.”

Regardless of the scientific accuracy of that last statement, my cynical side points out that it would be awfully hard to find anyone who would say they did not love oxygen. But still, she’s learned a lot about the rainforest. And yet if you asked her, she’d say without a second thought that she wanted it in her hands: all those gorgeous flowers, all those delightful animals. And the beans that can be somehow turned into chocolate.

Because to a five-year-old, infinite possibility is a wonderful thing. To me, it’s frightening. I look at the metaphorical rainforest and see a lot of resources that are going to be very difficult to protect adequately. She looks at the rain forest and sees fantastic possibilities.

I’d like to think we’re both right. We’ve both got the whole rainforest in our hands. All of us do. But not until I heard the kindergartners sing about it – for the first time when my now nine-year-old son was in kindergarten, and then again earlier this month – did I stop to think about just what that meant. To them. To me. To anyone. ∆

© 2008 The Carlisle Mosquito