Listening to: Neko Case, Blacklisted
Today was Lilly's last day of kindergarten, a class picnic in Soda Springs Park with the combined K-classes gathered for arts, crafts, food, foam rockets in the eye, crying, mega-bubble hoops, toddlers tumbling down the steps of the "big kid's slide", hot dogs trampled in the dust, spontaneous hysteria brought on by dive-bombing hornets, foam bats to the solar-plexus, more crying, and parents in shorts who really shouldn't be wearing shorts. Given the level of chaos today and the fact that no shots were fired, I now esteem kindergarten teachers on the same level as Gandhi or Martin Luther King and slightly higher than any saint I learned about in Catechism.
For my brood and I, the day started earlier than usual (for once I got them up) because the kindergartners had to meet early, congregate, test the extent of their teacher's saintliness, and then hoof it down to the park. After dropping Lilly off, Marni, Zeke, and I walked down to a local breakfast spot, grabbed some grub while daddy pumped himself up with a few gallons of coffee. As the meet-up time neared, we strolled down the main drag to catch everyone at the park.
Our little town is the kind of place where you greet people on the street, "Good Morning!", "Beautiful day, isn't it?".
The self-righteous nabobs of religious stupidity claim this kind of vision of Small Town America for themselves but they'd hate this place. Most of the population here is comprised of either throwbacks to the 60's or folks born well after the Summer of Love but who have taken the spirit of the 60's to heart. Grateful Dead or Widespread Panic stickers are de rigeur as well as granny dresses and dreadlocks. Probably half the people are pagan, Wiccan, or some variant of the cult of Gaia. I don't think it's an exaggeration to state that 50% of the bartenders in town are lesbians and rainbow flags outnumber lawn trolls ten to one.
The streets are quiet at night, the neighbors are quick to help, everyone looks out for everyone else (and yet, makes no judgment for what they see) and if you don't respond to the friendly "hello" on the street, you're not cast out or taken for a snob but just "deep in thought" or otherwise given the benefit of the doubt. Pedestrians always have the right-of-way (the most common ticket handed out in town is for not honoring that), the speed limit through the main drag is 20 MPH, and everything is at a relaxed, mellow pace.
Focus on the Family is just 10 miles north in the midst of suburban sprawl but it might as well be in another galaxy. My parents live close to FOTF and I despise driving in that area of town. Everyone is in a rush, jockeying for a better space in the jam; an act of friendliness or consideration is the exception, not the norm. Go to the shops up on that part of town and no one says hello, no one smiles, no one takes the time to help someone out. Yet, according to those folks, it's counter-culture types like the good people in Manitou Springs who are the reason the country is going straight to to hell.
Since I work up near FOTF and my parents handle the bulk of my childcare, my parents keep asking why I don't move closer to them. No thanks, I tell them. The school Lilly attends (Marni and Zeke will be doing pre-school there next year) is excellent. My niece who is all of three weeks younger than Lilly and attends school in the district where FOTF is located is well behind Lilly in math and reading. My niece can neither go to a local park on her own - too risky. In Manitou, I feel absolutely safe with my kids going wherever they please.
Beautiful as today was, it was nerve-racking trying to keep track of three small children today in a sea of 50 small kids spread throughout about two acres of town park. At one point, I lost sight of Marni and began frantically scanning the length of the park for her. Still not finding her, I began jogging through the park, somewhat panicked and anxious to find her. My thoughts were not on the possibilities - that she'd been abducted or had wandered away and then picked up by a stranger - but just an immediate need to locate her.
She had indeed wandered away and a stranger had taken her by the hand - and led her back to the park. The stranger was not even one of the kindergarten parents or school workers but just a local who recognized that my little girl had strayed away from the safe zone and needed to go back. I ran to Marni, ready to scold, ready to pick her up as the stranger passed her off to me. "Thank you," I exhaled, relieved and the stranger, with a twinkle in her eye, smiled and turned away, "Sure thing," she replied, "Have a Grateful day!"
Talk to any of the the FOTF crowd about Manitou Springs and they'll tell you that we're all heathens and Satan worshipers and perverts and Communists and blissed-out ne'er-do-wells who are doomed to damnation and in need of saving. Believe me, I hear this almost anytime I tell someone wearing the stripes of the Religious Right where I live. Yet, I read their hate rhetoric and visit their hate-filled neighborhoods where no one gives a damn about anyone else, I read their cowardly comments on The Zero Boss's site and I have to wonder: who needs to be saved?