The week before Thanksgiving I was part of a wonderful Thanksgiving-themed Storytime. Excellent books were read: Otis Gives Thanks by Loren Long and Thankful by Eileen Spinelli. We sang through There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Turkey by Lucille Colandro, and Simple Gifts by Chris Raschka. All was going swimmingly — beautiful children, rapt and smiling. They were very young, but you could tell they were read to regularly. They knew how to sit on cushions, raise their hands, use their inside voices, etc.
And then I decided to “tell” an original story about setting the table for a Thanksgiving Tea. I pulled out #1 Son’s tea set from when he was three and very into tea parties. I gave it a good wash — quite dusty as he has used larger tea cups for years now — and packed it into a “story box” with a few other props.
We will set a beautiful table together, I thought. I will invite them to pour the tea for one another…to imagine what they’d like to eat…we will give thanks for all the goodness in life…. Warm cozy feelings flooded my storytelling heart.
I placed a small end table in front of them. They all stood up and gathered around. This was unexpected — the standing — but it made sense, of course. They would be right there and able to see the story unfold. I smiled, opened my story box, and began.
This is our Thanksgiving table for tea… They stood still stock still, staring at the table in front of them. I love the innate drama of telling stories!
This is the tablecloth, ironed so smooth, that covers our Thanksgiving table for tea…. I spread a colorful sunflower napkin. Immediately they all were touching the napkin, rubbing the table with the napkin, pulling the napkin to one side and then the other, wiping their noses on the napkin. I suggested we put our hands at our sides.
I suggested we put our hands behind our backs.
So I continued. I’m semi-unflappable.
This is the light, that shines in the middle…. A quick glance at my fellow storytime leader confirmed that we might not want to light the candle as planned in my ridiculously cozy vision of this story telling. This was an excellent choice as instantly there were hundreds, maybe thousands, of little hands all over the unlit candle. They passed it around, grabbed it from one another, blew on it. I insisted we put the light in the middle as the story said.
When it was reluctantly placed there and we imagined the cozy flame, I continued through the story. They continued touching the candle and adjusting the cloth.
But things didn’t really fall apart until I brought out the small plates of “all different colors” with their “matching cups for our Thanksgiving tea.”
These were rearranged, stacked and unstacked, clattered together, passed around, dropped on the floor, sipped from, and licked. My fellow storyteller flinched with every clatter, but I knew what those dishes had been through and although they are pottery, they are the magical sort that somehow does not break.
When I placed the teapot and cream and sugar “that match the cups and plates, all different colors” on the table, frenetic pouring and common cup swigging ensued. Clearly they understood the concept of teatime. A small skirmish broke out over the cream pitcher and its imaginary cream. Heaps more sugar than the wee sugar bowl could possibly hold was sprinkled around all over the cloth and on each other. A thousand or more children managed to gather around that tiny table and “manipulate” the props.
WHAT A FEAST! I cried. WHAT A TREAT! WHAT SHALL WE EAT FOR OUR TEA?!
“Cereal!” was the first answer. Then ‘taters and pie and popcorn and candy and turkey and more candy and toast and goldfish and jelly and macaroni-and-cheese and cupcakes and milk and apples and buttered noodles and bananas and hotdogs and meat and corn-on-the-cob and hot chocolate and watermelon and more candy. Marshmallows, too. For the hot chocolate. But also just to eat.
All of these things we pretended to place and plop and sprinkle and slop on the wee little plates and in the wee little cups as they were moving, no less. It was chaos — everything constantly being passed and clattered and exchanged and grabbed.
WE GIVE THANKS FOR THIS FOOD AND DRINK, THIS TABLE, AND OUR FRIENDS! I yelled above the mayhem. AND NOW WE CLEAN UP!
Half of the group immediately went and sat on their cushions. The other half did indeed “help” put everything back in the storybox. My storyteller partner and I heaved a sigh of relief as I put the lid on. Nothing broke. No one was crying. There was no blood.
“Now we have a craft!” we said. Which was, curiously, a much calmer activity. Except for the glue sticks — small battles erupted over those. More than one child used them as chapstick. Perhaps this made for a quiet ride home.