You May Say I'm a Dreamer...Musings on Remembrance Day
I was crying before I even arrived at the Remembrance Day ceremony at my son’s school. Crying for so many reasons…happy tears, sad tears, nostalgic tears. This was a big step for me. I hadn’t really cried for the past ten years and had recently gone on a journey of trying to be more vulnerable. Little did I know that opening myself up to vulnerability would also lead to me crying and crying A LOT!
The morning had started out really stressful. My son had forgotten to mention to me that he needed to wear all black for his Remembrance Day Assembly. Not only that, he had made up his mind that he wanted to dress up to show respect for the soldier’s who had died in the war. This was a HUGE step for him and one that I was not at all prepared for as a mother. He has some sensory struggles and has not worn anything besides sweat pants and dry fit t-shirts for the past two years. He is THAT KID who on spirit days completely refuses to dress up and I love him for his passionate dedication to this. But, on this particular day he wanted to be brave like the soldiers and wear dress pants and I really wanted to support this bravery in the best way possible. Luckily, I have a lovely friend who passes down all of her son’s clothes to us and had a tonne of bins in my basement just waiting for moments like these. I rushed downstairs and found the bins. After rifling through three bins of clothes I was able to find some black dress pants and a belt. My son had picked out a gray long sleeved t-shirt that he enjoys wearing. I left him with those and went down to the basement to wake up my daughter.
I gently started to pat my daughter’s back. She is almost 13 and it is not easy to get her out of bed in the morning. She groaned and rolled over. I turned on the light;
“I let you sleep in bit so you need to hurry.”
At that exact moment, my son came in wearing his handsome outfit, a poppy pinned carefully on the left side above his heart. My heart started to sing and tears rimmed my eyes.
My daughter’s eyes opened wide, “I promised my teacher that I would bring in Great Grandpa’s book about the war. Can you please get it for me?”
I ran upstairs and grabbed the book from my bedside table. I knew exactly where this was because it is a book that I read often. My grandfather was an incredible writer (among many other things) and our family is fortunate that he decided to document his life in a book entitled “An Indeterminate ‘nothing very much’” before he passed away. I refer to this book often when I’m feeling uncertain about things or just want to feel connected to my grandfather again. I have read bits and pieces of it aloud to my grade five class three years ago to chants of “more!” and begging me not to stop. It suddenly occurred to me that, although I have told my children about it, I have never read it aloud to them.
I came downstairs to find both of my children dressed smartly in black and eating their cereal at the kitchen table. My hands started to shake as I started to read “Chapter 5-The War Years” aloud to them.
“Stop reading!”, my daughter exclaimed “My teacher is going to read that to us today!”
I took a deep breath, “but…I want to read it to you. That way if your classmates or teacher have any questions you can answer them.”
Her face went red and tears sprung to her eyes. She jumped up from the table and slammed her cereal dish into the dishwasher; “You’re going to totally ruin it for me!”
I counted from one to ten and then ten to one slowly in my head, “Okay, would you like to put the book into your backpack?”
She smiled her beautiful smile, “yes, thank you Mom, maybe we could read it together next week?”
I gave her a hug, “That sounds like a fantastic idea to me.”
I glanced at the clock…it was 8:34. My son’s school starts at 8:40. He was going to go to school in his handsome outfit with uncombed hair…kinda like a soldier. I ran to the door in my pajama pants and threw on my boots,
“Hurry! We’re going to be late.” I snapped.
With both kids dropped at school I returned home and finally had a chance to take a deep breath, I didn’t realize how rattled I was until I had a moment to myself. I went and took a quick shower and headed over to meet my dad. During the walk to the school we talked about the book my grandfather had written and how precious it was to our family. My dad told me that he is currently editing the fifth edition of this book…I asked him if he has ever pursued publishing of this book. He didn’t have time to answer because we arrived at the school.
We entered the school to find the principal and assistant principal in the hallway greeting all of the families as they arrived. There are many reasons why this school is such an amazing place for learning and an example is definitely set by these two in their daily actions. They work tirelessly to ensure that they truly know the families and kids who come to their school. Even though my kids have only been at this school for just over a year the principal greeted me,
“Hi Leah…how is your time off work going?”
I acknowledged that although it was going well I was also missing teaching and felt grateful for the opportunity to come to the school as a parent instead of as a teacher. Having been part of the grade team that put on the Remembrance Day assembly at my own school multiple times I knew all too well how much work the staff had put into this day.
My dad and I walked into the gym and I was met with the kind eyes of a former colleague. I went and gave her a quick hug and wasn’t surprised to hear how much she loved teaching at this new school. We found our seats and the assembly began. Carefully chosen war pictures flashed on the projector at the front of the gym as the students entered. As soon as all students were in the gym the confident voice of one of the grade 5 MC’s came clearly through the sound system.
“Please stand quietly and remain standing until after the Acknowledgement of the Land. Thank you.” A group of students carrying a wreath and flags started to walk down the isle as another group of students sang “Amazing Grace” and a student played the violin beside them.
Next, the students of the school sang the national anthem perfectly in both English and French, as many of the parents stumbled through the French parts. My son’s friend got up to read the Acknowledgement of the Land and did an amazing job of it. I wondered to myself if the staff had purposely chosen someone who had just immigrated to Canada three years before to read this or if it was just a really cool coincidence…. either way, it gave me chills.
The audience was reminded that Remembrance Day is a solemn and serious occasion and that no applause is necessary. This was followed by the introduction of the first song“The grade five students have prepared a song entitled “One Tin Soldier”…This song is controversial and while the students perform it for you, it should provide you with some questions and some thoughts about war. Even if you win a war, does it really mean you are a winner? Even if you fight someone for his or her treasure, do you really enjoy the worth of it? We hope you enjoy our song.” At that the perfectly rehearsed voices of the grade five students filled the gym.
Next, the speaker introduced the poem that was about to be read…this poem is well known to Canadian students and one that I memorized in my own elementary school days…the voices of my son and his classmates filled the gym, “In Flanders’s Fields the poppies blow….” I was so happy to watch my son speaking this confidently and to know that he had this poem committed to memory now.
“Students…have been working on a shadow play that depicts war. This play is about life: being kids and growing up, finding friends and later a partner to marry and start a family with. This play is also about the sadness of war, and how it changes lives forever…while performing the play students will sing “Imagine” while other students perform on the Ukulele and guitar. Tears started streaming down my face as I watched the perfectly performed shadow play and reflected on the words of John Lennon including,
“Go ahead and hate your neighbour, go ahead and cheat a friend…” I nervously glanced over at a neighbour who I had recently had a small conflict with…was everything okay? Had I done everything I could to ensure that I had been fair in this situation?
Next, the speakers introduced the idea of a candle light tribute ceremony. I was very intrigued because I had never heard of this before. It was beautifully executed.
After that, we got to hear the work that had gone on in the grade 5 classrooms to prepare the students with the necessary background knowledge to host this assembly. Students had learned about important battles in Canadian history, heard about real life experiences from a guest speaker and took the time to put themselves in the shoes of those who had served by writing first person narratives about what it would have been like to live in the trenches during World War One. The only part of this I had heard about from my son was the writing…he had been asking many dinnertime questions about the experiences of my grandfather.
The Lieutenant Colonel who had spoken to the grade 5 students earlier in the week got up to speak. He had proudly served in both the regular forces and reserves for 38 years and it was fascinating to hear about his experiences.
After that, the speakers announced that a representative from each classroom would come forward to follow a long time tradition at the school of pinning a poppy on the wreath and they invited all guests to sing, “Peace Like a River”. I was surprised to see my son proudly stand up to represent his class by pinning the poppy on the wreath. Had he mentioned this to me? If he had I didn’t recall it.
Finally, some former students of the school got up to play the last post on trumpets and the whole gym reflected during a moment of silence. The speakers acknowledged the hard work of their teachers and thanked everyone involved in putting on this assembly and requested that before the students exit everyone sing “Sending Peace” then they made one final request,
“As you exit please use this time to think about what you have learned today and what you can do to ensure peace within your life.”
I followed their advice and started to reflect… as I watched as the grade five teachers gather together to celebrate their job well done, and saw the proud smile on my son’s face, the words to “Sending peace” helped me to come to the conclusion that, even in this time of political and economic uncertainty, in our city, our province, the country and the world I am certain of one thing…. there is hope for the future.