I slid the door of the mini-van closed, and as I turned around, one of the lanterns slipped a bit in my hand. It was Laternenacht at Grace's school, which is a politically correct version of Martinstag, a German holiday celebrating Saint Martin and his good deeds.
I readjusted the lanterns in my left hand, and I took Meghan's mittened hand in my right hand. Grace grabbed my left elbow, and we shuffled along toward the school. As we walked along, children swung their lanterns back and forth as their parents reminded them to be careful.
"Mommy, I want my lantern on!" Grace protested.
"Sorry Grace, we'll turn it on when we get inside the gym. Hurry with me. We're a little late, and the program is starting."
We walked through the glass-paned front doors of Grace's school. The main hallway was teeming with parents and children. Some parents were still trying to buy their children lanterns to use in the procession around the park later. I kept hearing, "I want that one!" from various little helium voices. Laternenacht was a big deal for these grade schoolers. They had been preparing with their teachers for weeks by making lanterns and practicing the traditional German songs such as Laterne, Laterne.
Last year, we had missed Laternenacht because Gracie was incredibly sick with a stomach virus. I wasn't sure what to expect. We finally squeezed past the table where the lanterns were being sold, and quickly proceeded to the gym.
"Stay close girls. I don't want you to get lost in here."
The lights were down in the gym except for the backlighting on the stage. A "high tech" overhead projector shone onto the screen. A blurry song form appeared. I couldn't make out any of the letters. Four parents were standing on the stage, and each held various instruments readied for the sing-along.
"Mommy, I want to turn my lantern on." Grace said again.
"Go ahead Grace. Let's take your hat and mittens off."
The folded accordian-style paper of her lantern light glowed. It was a traditional style German lantern in the shape of a ball. Two round metal wires held the ball together.
Families were packed in like sardines in the gymnasium. We sat down on the floor.
Just as we were sitting down, a young boy bumped into Meghan. She fell directly onto her paper lantern. It ripped in half. Grace promptly began to cry because she thought it was her lantern.
"Gracie, this is not your lantern."
"Oh." She turned around, wiped the easily formed tears from her eyes, and turned her lantern off and on several times.
"Mommy! My lantern is smooshed," Meghan whined.
I wispered, "I know Megs. Mommy is going to fix it for you." I dug around in the pocket of my slacks, and found a small black binder clip that I brought along just in case the mechanism on which the lantern was perched failed. I felt rather MacGyverish because it worked perfectly to keep Meghan's lantern together. I thought, "Yay me!"
The sing-along began, and Grace's prowess of her Laternenacht songs came shouting out of her. She was in heaven. The songs flowed easily out of her memory, and her voice matched the tune perfectly. A mom sitting in front of her turned around smiling. Gracie was clearly shouting songs in her ears, but that mom didn't seem to mind.
Ich gehe mit meiner Laterne, Laterne Laterne, Der Herbst ist da all were sung by the children. Some of the parents are native Germans, and it was clear they were reminicing about their childhood Martinstag memories. Lots of smiling faces were reflected in the glow of lanterns.
The program was entirely auf Deutche, and only lasted for 10 minutes. I was glad because the gymnasium was beginning to swelter. Meghan attempted to sing along, but didn't know the songs yet and as a result, became quite bored. She shifted and poked her lantern. A couple of times, she smashed her lantern into my face. My patience was slowly eroding. Thank goodness for short programs, though.
With what seemed like an abrupt halt, all of the families streamed into the main hallway of the school again. We proceeded East toward the playground exit. As I stopped to take a picture of the girls with their lanterns, I heard, "Gracie!"
I turned around, and there was Grace's best pal, Zoe. Her pink, piggy lantern glowed in her hand. Zoe's brother, Sam, was on his dad's shoulders. His Winnie der Pooh lantern glowed in his hand.
"Mommy, I want to go with Zoe," Grace whined.
"Alright Grace. We'll catch up to them. Now smile please." I snapped the picture, and we walked out the playground area doors.
As I inhaled, I started to cough since there several moms who had lit their cigarettes just outside the school doors.
Out of my mouth came, "Oh gross! Who is smoking?"
A response came out of the darkness, "I'm so sick of people telling me I can't smoke. C'mon. I am outside!"
I thought, "Yeah, just outside the doors of a school, where you know people are bringing their children to join the Laternenact procession. You can't wait another half an hour to get your fix, huh?"
I kept walking with the girls, but said loudly, "I have 2 children, who have a genetic disorder that doesn't allow them to be exposed to cigarettes. It is a huge deal when someone smokes around them even if it is outside. A little bit of their lung function just got damaged from your addiction."
No reply came forth, and we ran ahead to get away from the smoke. My inner evil side thought, "What a hag!"
"Why are we running Mommy?" Meghan huffed.
"To catch up with Zoe and Sam and to get away from the cigarette smoke."
Grace found Zoe, and they held hands. As they walked along, their lanterns glowed and bounced in cadence with their steps. They began singing, "Ich gehe mit meiner Laterne..."
It was a crisp fall evening, and leaves crunched under our feet. I held Meghan's hand, and she would periodically shout toward Sam, "Hi Sammy!"
It was our first Laternenacht but will be one of many we'll attend in the coming years. Time is speeding up as my girls go full speed into their school years. I soaked in the memories as I'm sure I'll eventually reflect on nights like Laternenacht as some of the best of my life.
We reached the end of the procession, grabbed our cookies, and piled back into the mini-van as it was now close to bedtime. Ah to be a kid again...