If you are a kindergarten student lucky enough to attend my school, a couple of times per year you get the privilege of hunting down imaginary seasonal creatures. If you are a custodian lucky enough to work at my school, a couple of times per year you get the privilege of cleaning up the “tracks” left by imaginary seasonal creatures. Life’s about balance, right?
Here’s how it works: At some point during the weeks preceding winter break, a “gingerbread” man is baked in an oven somewhere at school. The gingerbread man magically comes to life, slips off the pan, and evades capture for a couple of weeks despite the best efforts of our three kindergarten classrooms. He causes a bit of mischief and leaves little flour trails all over the halls and the outdoor play areas. Reports of gingerbread man sightings echo through the halls. “I saw his leg!” “I found a button!”
Each evening the custodial staff gets to sweep up extra flour or glitter or whatever it is the gingerbread man (for December), leprechaun (March), or chupacabra (May) has left behind. I’m sure it’s at least mildly annoying, but they don’t seem to mind. Oh, and just kidding about the chupacabra…we do him in April. 😉
The kindergarten students take the gingerbread man very seriously. Some of our first graders have some carry-over enthusiasm partly because their classrooms are right across the hall. It wanes a bit in second grade because by that time you’ve seen two cycles of the gingerbread man-hunt and are starting to get suspicious. By third grade you’ve moved on to a hallway full of older kids and nearly everyone declares that they knew the gingerbread man was phony the whole time.
Unless you’re one of my students, that is. Or, I should say, unless you’re one student in particular. The same guy that put up the crazy protest about building a snowman back in November because he was sure to his core that he’d get frostbite and lose all of his toes. If you’re that kid then the gingerbread man strikes fear into the depths of your heart.
He came to my room one day during his recess (which also strikes fear into the very depths of his heart). He asked me if I’d seen the gingerbread man. He said he was very worried about all the trouble he was causing and that he sincerely hoped he’d be caught soon and brought to some kind of justice. I don’t know what gingerbread justice looks like, but I imagine it has something to do with being thrown to a pack of sugar-crazed six-year-olds and torn limb-from-gingerbread-limb.
This kid is serious about his disdain for mischief. He does not appreciate anything that even waves a big toe in the direction of rule-breaking. We’ve asked him to rank problems common to a third grader on a 10-point scale, where for normal folks 10 is something like having a severed limb while your house explodes and a 1 is having misplaced the post-its, and everything to him comes out as a 10. Just the fact that the gingerbread man is leaving behind more mess than he should, not to mention whatever other minor things get credited to him, and my little friend cannot comprehend why we haven’t mounted a school-wide search and called in the law enforcement with ginger-sniffing dogs already. It seriously stresses him out.
So what does he do? He brings the issue to me and we calmly try to problem-solve through it. I tried for a while to convince him the gingerbread man isn’t real, that he’s just a fun thing they do in kindergarten to go along with a seasonal literacy unit. No way, not convinced. He said that last year he wasn’t sure he believed it, but THIS year people have actually seen it. A kindergartener SAW HIS LEG, Ms. Randle, HIS LEG. And that kindergartener never lies, and there is way more flour than last year OR the year before, and he’s causing more problems, blah, blah, blah…
So that was a wasted ten minutes. New tactic.
I decided that if I couldn’t talk him out of the delusion, I’d join him and try to solve this problem from the inside.
I asked, “If you think he’s real, why can’t we find him? Where do you think he goes?” Oh, up into the ceiling tiles where he can run from room to room unimpeded and spy on everyone.
Ok, so I figured I didn’t need to ask how he reaches the doorknobs. But now I’m wondering how he gets up into the ceiling tiles…licorice whip grappling hook? I decided not to go there.
I asked, “What do you think he’d do if you ran across him in the hall?” I don’t know…attack probably.
“Don’t you think you could take him? He’s just a cookie, after all. You could eat him.” No way, I don’t like gingerbread.
I told him he could trap him and that I’d eat him, but he wasn’t having that, either. My students love me and are always concerned about my health and don’t want me eating too much junk food. That or they’re concerned about being maimed by a two-foot-tall living cookie. I don’t know.
I decided to come at it from the fact that all the things that have been attributed to the gingerbread man thus far have been really trivial things that nobody should worry about or be afraid of. If I have to let you believe he’s real, kid, I’m going to convince you he’s harmless.
“What do you think the gingerbread man’s goal is, friend? What do you think he’s trying to do?” Build an army.
Um…huh. An army. He said that he was certain the gingerbread man was spying on us from above and creating an army of gingerbread man clones who could do his bidding while he remained in the safety of his ceiling tile lair. Interesting. That really does sound like the most nefarious baked-good on the planet. If that were the vision in my head, I’d hide out at recess, too.
Sooo, on to something new, I guess. I said, “Didn’t someone say the gingerbread man had been caught? That he’s locked in the principal’s office?” Yeah, but the principal is absent today. What if he crawled out of the box they’re keeping him in?
At this point I thought that maybe a trip to the office to visit the substitute principal and hear her say from her own mouth that the gingerbread man had been captured and was now in some kind of secret, secure holding facility would do the trick. He wasn’t believing anything I said, after all. However, he would not budge. He got to the doorway and bounced back like he’d hit some kind of force-field of fear.
“It’s ok, we’ll just go down there and she’ll tell us where he’s at.” No way! I’m not going down there! I do not want to see an alive gingerbread man moving around. That’s creepy.
OMG, child! Work with me just a little bit here. Please.
So, we can’t fight the gingerbread man on our own, we won’t eat the gingerbread man, he’s creating an army, and at some point we’d established that even if the thing lost a limb he’d keep on keepin’ on with his villainous schemes.
I took a breath. Then I remembered having seen these online: Ninjabread Men. They’re cookie cutters that let you make cookies shaped like dudes doing ninja moves. They are awesome.
I asked, “Hey, if we can’t fight him on our own, what if we had ninjabread men to fight for us?”
Oh my gosh, I am so deep into this kid’s crazy right now it isn’t even funny. He didn’t shoot it down, though. He wondered how they’d be able to take him down, seeing as how they’re so small. Ninjas, I said, don’t rely on their size but on their superior fighting skills and their sneakiness. Also, I said ninjabread men travel in a group. He conceded that possibly ninjabread men could defeat the gingerbread man. It was such a teeny-tiny glimmer of hope, but I jumped on it.
I went home and made these:
I was committed to seeing this through, but not committed enough to make my own dough, so I bought one of those rolls of pre-made sugar cookie dough you can find in the refrigerator section, rolled it out, and used a regular gingerbread man cutter to make the shapes. Then I filled them in with some decorating icing left over from a roommate’s Halloween baking projects.
A fearsome creature to behold, no? He looks like he could kick some gingerbread butt, yeah?
I put them on a plate, wrapped them up, and brought them to school. I was SO excited. For one, I got to bake. On top of that, I figured I must be some sort of genius regarding children. I was, after all, able to infiltrate his crazy world of gingerbread armies bent on overtaking elementary schools and come up with a solution so creative it absolutely had to work.
I said, “Hey, look what I’ve got!”
He just kind of eyed them. He nonchalantly asked what they were. “Ninjabread men! They’ll protect you from the gingerbread man.”
He asked if I’d made them. Yes, I proudly confirmed that I had. He asked which oven I’d used to bake them. Well, the one in my very own kitchen, of course.
Here’s where it unravels.
Oh, he said, so not in the oven in the staff room? The same one that baked the gingerbread man? Then these won’t come alive.
I sighed. You know what, kid? We’re done. Go ahead and hang out in your fear-filled delusion. There was nowhere else to go from there.
Okay, dude, then why don’t you just eat the ninjabread men? If you’re not going to use them in self-defense, at least enjoy them as a snack.
No, he can’t do that. He doesn’t like gingerbread men. Does it matter that they aren’t gingerbread, they’re NINJAbread? Nope, he doesn’t like gingerbread. Does it matter that they aren’t gingerbread because they’re made out of sugar cookie dough? No, Ms. Randle, it does not. He does not like gingerbread. Does it matter that gingerbread and sugar cookies aren’t the same thing? No, it does not, because I can’t spend one more minute trying to get inside this kid’s head. There’s no way in. You think you’re in and that you get it, but you don’t. Give it up.
I forced him to take the cookies home and give them to his mom or something.
Talking to a friend later, he suggested a crime scene with a gingerbread man chalk outline and maybe a bunch of crumbs or just an arm left behind. That way he’d just think the gingerbread man was defeated and we could all move on with our lives. Maybe next year, when I’ve gotten over the sting of not being clever enough to think of using the right oven.
Saint Patrick’s Day is around the corner. Well, it’s over a month away. The kindergarten rooms really do chase down a leprechaun, though. I’m getting tense just thinking about it. I don’t think there’s anything I can bake that’ll solve that problem.