May 23rd, 2009

Photo Essay: The Scarf

Although Skylar's school goes for three more days next week, Friday was her last day. We're meeting my sister and her three-year-old son at a beachside campground where the days following Memorial Day are one of the few times that aren't reserved in advance within seconds of their becoming available. Because she was sad about missing some of the last week's fun activities, we persuaded her teacher to move up the class auction so that Skylar could attend. Students collect points for good behavior throughout the year that they can then use to win a surprisingly wide range of donated goodies. Her teacher's condition was that I volunteer, since she was moving the event to accommodate us. And I was happy to do so, despite the fact that it ended up being an all-day commitment, since they could only hold the auction in between other scheduled activities, like Spanish, Art and Math.

The good thing for me about spreading the auction over the whole school day was that I had free time to take pictures of Skylar and her friends during recess and lunch. At first I only intended to document, at her request, the goings-on in "Smalltown," the make-believe community that she and many other students labored to maintain over much of the school year. I'm thinking of writing a longer piece, with her assistance, on the fascinating twists and turns of this recess activity, which has functioned a good deal like multi-player internet pursuits like Second Life, only without the use of computer technology. Delineated by rock boundaries whose transience calls to mind Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall", Smalltown has taught participants useful lessons -- sometimes painful ones -- about the difficulty of keeping a community running without the power of the state to encourage good behavior with the threat of force.

That's Skylar in the black sweater, arms raised to catch a flying disc thrown by one of the kindergarden buddies she and her fellow fourth-graders were assigned to mentor. In the case of her and some of her friends, this brief exercise in cross-class collaboration turned into an immensely rewarding social activity that lasted for months.

Once I had started taking pictures, I realized that it made sense to document not only Smalltown, but the interactions that have mattered most to Skylar throughout the school year. When she and a few of her fourth-grade and kindergarten friends began to play what I thought of as "Pass the Fetish," taking turns with each other's favorite accessory, I was able to zoom in for some shots that show how much fun they were having.

In this photo, Skylar is wearing her friend's treasured Phoenix Cardinals hat while watching one of their "kinderbuddies" get decked out in her own scarf.

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