Rebel with a Shovel in the Schoolyard


Olive Chan -Rebel with A Shovel3

I’m a newbie Kindergarten mom. My firstborn just started at the school down the street and I’m slowly learning the ropes of what it means to pack lunches, navigate new social expectations, and play detective to what my daughter does for six hours a day.

I moved to British Columbia from Ontario when I got married eight years ago. While I love it here, I’m always left scratching my head at how inept most people here are at dealing with snow. There just usually isn’t much of it—except this winter.

Before the Christmas holiday, it snowed. Everyone pretty much expected the rain to wash it away. But it didn’t rain. It stayed bitterly cold. People shoveled what they could, but mostly the snow got compressed under tires and feet, eventually turning into ice. I had thought that elementary schools would be a priority for the school district to clear. I was wrong.

The Kindergarten classes have their own separate entrance to the school with small yard surrounded by a short wooden fence to protect the five- and six-year-old kids. After the first snow, I was shocked to see that there had been little effort to clear a path to that door.

When the two-week break was over and we had even more snow, it became obvious to me that something had to be done. I’d seen a couple dads kicking at the ice to try to make a path after school one day. Maybe I could sprinkle some road salt? I felt silly about feeling so passionate about this. I was a newbie mom. What place did I have to clear the school’s snow? And yet, I couldn’t stay passive knowing that children and caregivers were at risk of slipping.

After dropping my daughter off in the morning, I spoke with the principal. He apologetically told me that the custodians were doing what they could. “I’ll keep you posted,” he said. As I left, the words, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” came to mind and I knew what I had to do. I couldn’t simply wait around for others to get around to it.

I spent the rest of the morning trying to find some road salt but, of course, every store was sold out. So, when I went to pick up my daughter after school, I grabbed our metal shovel and a smaller plastic one. I told her, “We’re going to help the school today.”

It felt like we were on a covert mission as we hid in our van with our snacks until most of the folks had left. Then we set to work. Under the waning sun, I chiseled away at the thinner parts of the ice while my daughter helped clear the loose bits. I felt like a rebel. With each clank of my shovel and scrape of the pavement, I was painfully aware of my own self-consciousness. Was anyone watching us? What were people thinking of this woman in a red coat making her young daughter shovel the ice in front of her school? I tried desperately not to think about what others might be thinking.

Then, we heard the door open and a voice, “I’m here!” It was the principal, holding a snow shovel. I don’t know when he saw us, but I suspect that our presence moved this pesky job of dealing with the snow and ice up to the top of his list of priorities. He told me he’d get some salt and finish clearing the path just before he got paged back to the office.

It felt like a small victory to me. I made a difference. I showed up to meet a need and in the process, my daughter learned that she could make a difference, too. Whether the principal ever saw us didn’t matter to me. The fact that he did and decided to pitch in, was a bonus.

When I think of what Rising Up means, I think, in a small way, this is it: 

It’s being attentive to the needs around us.
It’s choosing to honour that voice inside of us that says, “You need to do this.”
It’s ignoring the voices that belittle us or jeer at our desires.
It’s being braver than we feel.
It’s loving the little corner of the world entrusted to us.

And then, it’s believing that our simple offerings of love will ripple out to truly better the world.