I always Loved to Play with Children/Commies in my Way
....and the children do not have to be mine!! Ever since I remember from the time I was about 15, I made a small handmade invitations for children's competitions, put them in the mail boxes in our Communist apartment building and here it was! On Saturdays, I would have around me a pack of small children and my friends who liked to tag along. We did sports, we collected herbs, we played games, made animals from chestnuts, and I was in heaven.
The Commies did not let me study pedagogy so I can become a teacher, and actually did not allow me to study at all. That was quite common in our sweet regime: if parents were on a black list with the Commies, their children would not be recommended to become educated. (If you wanted to study at university, a local Communist cell had to give you a recommendation; the same scenario applied for your travel requiring agreement of the ruling class.)
How ironic it all was: Both of my parents were successful beloved popular teachers in our small town, providing on the top of their duties culture of all kinds: from a student excellent choir to a poetic students' theater (both troupes one of the best in Czechoslovakia judging by their competitions' accolades). Next to that my parents were a part of a local amateur theater and had their own sought after performing poetry group offering wonderful programs. All of this done for free but with love, passion, enthusiasm and unseen professionalism. The Commies always sniffed revolt in my parents' poetry performances or in the sung polyphony or folk songs, and were wary of them as of anyone who was educated, cultured, decent and who kept pressing on with smile to offer inspiration and joy for others.
The other irony was that the Commies wanted to prevent me to become a teacher (to spare the students my
possibly subversive influence) yet after I moved to Prague (I was 18) I landed a full time job in an after school program in an elementary school as a teacher.
And I loved it.
My green 1800's school building was right in the heart of this romantic charming city. My 4th grade children and I had a love affair from the very first day. I became their champion and protector and they became mine. I convinced them to be actors, singers, dancers....I conceived plays for them consisting of the Czech poems and songs, I entered a competition and we made it all the way to the nationals! We traveled to the decorated festive city of the nationals for a full week, boy what a joy it was!!
I loved and savored the joy to come up every day with a new program for the children in their after school hours, I tried to inspire them, I disciplined them in (it seemed!) an effective yet kind way, and I teased their creativity.
Often I would take them all over Prague, sharing stories about the buildings, churches, bridges, kings and queens, taking them to the beautiful parks, to sweet shops, to galleries, to the puppet shows.
Still a teenager, moving from a small town to the big city, it goes without saying that loneliness sometimes crept in, but these angels of mine and their parents gave me so much love that the clouds of homesickness were dispersed quickly....I was young, full of beautiful ideals, living in the most beautiful city full of culture, slowly making great friends, studying at night languages and acting, and believing for better tomorrow. After a year I was, after much peripeties that deserve its own blog, accepted to the Charles University and became one happy teacher of Literature, Linguistic and Music.
Years later I made a decision to pack my bags and to explore this beautiful New World. My obsession to play with children came with me. After several years when I had my first own child, I decided to map out, in this foreign welcoming land, other Czechs and Slovaks so my son will have companions and I a group of children to play with. I gathered somehow seven physical addresses of Czech and Slovak families and sent out an invitation for the first "children afternoon" in 2001. It was held in the Czech and Slovak House in Balboa Park, San Diego, where the organization allowed me to use their cottage after I became a member. And that was a beginning of a beautiful, sometimes difficult (as you always find your adversaries) journey of Children's Afternoon in the Park that I established with my friend Jana. When our children were small, we had the gathering every months. Then Jana moved away and so did all but one of the original seven families, but our children gatherings go on for 18 years as of now! And my address book? It grew from seven addresses to about 300!
I betrayed my intention of this very blog! I was to share the joy of the most recent Children's Day and instead I went on and on of its origin. But sometimes it is important to revisit the beginning of something that make us happy.
And that we had SO MUCH FUN at our last event you can beautifully see from the pictures.
And I can confess that as much as I loved my very first students, those 4th graders from the center of Prague from years and years ago, as much I love these Czech-Slovak-Americans here in always sunny San Diego. Their innocence, their eagerness to win, to try, to succeed, to please, and their unconditional love when you gave them yours, is the best gift there is.