To an eight-year-old city kid, there are few joys greater than seeing elephants walk down the street next to your school in the middle of a Monday afternoon. Certainly none more random. By the same token, there are few disappointments fiercer than being promised elephants and getting no elephants. One spring day during my first year teaching in Washington, DC, we experienced both in an elephant-induced emotional rollercoaster.
The day began with a story on NPR just before I stepped out of the car on my way to school in Northeast DC. Several elephants from a traveling circus would be parading through Capitol Hill that morning. I came to find out that not only would they be passing within two blocks of our building, but that there was a school-wide plan to drop everything at 12:30, hop around the corner, and see the enormous animals in all their glory. Apparently this had become an annual occurrence.
12:30 rolled around, and we left the classroom in search of a mystery “surprise.” “That’s the surprise!” I told the students as we tiptoed through a large puddle resulting from a broken water main gushing into the crosswalk. Though a few students perhaps believed that water pouring onto the concrete actually was the surprise, we were heading for something even better.
We chose a spot along the elephants’ route and waited. We waited some more. And some more, before finding out that the elephants were still on the train and wouldn’t be arriving until around two-ish. “OK!” I announced in my best “no big deal” voice. “We’ve got some stuff to do back at school, so we’ll just go learn for a little bit, and then pop back over here for this really neat thing.” A line of rather grouchy children followed me back through the large puddle and into the school.
Two-ish rolled around, and we put our coats back on and lined up at the door, ready to forsake our standing Monday appointment with the Spanish teacher for this still mysterious surprise. Before we had even gotten to the threshold of the front door, another class passed us going in a decidedly non-elephant direction. “I guess the surprise isn’t happening until after school is over, kids. The surprise was elephants. Elephants and horses. But we won’t get to see them. Sorry. But that makes us just in time for….Spanish!”
A short while later, as most students had started to get over the major letdown of the day (and a couple had spiraled into melancholy), news came that the elephants were off the train, headed our way, and would be arriving before the end of school! Elation!
From their questions as we walked back over to the designated viewing spot, it appeared that some of the children were under the impression that they’d somehow be riding the elephants or at least petting them, but neither of these things happened. We simply watched from the sidewalk as the impressively huge and lumbering creatures were led down the road to the circus venue by their trainers. The elephants came and the elephants went without a single instance of trunk trumpeting or uber-pooping, or any of the other fancy things that elephants do. We did, however, see some PETA protesters.
Photo Credit: 2009 Photo Carol Guzy/the Washington Post Photo