At the end of last year, my daughter Amelia graduated from her kindergarten class. As seems to be the custom these days, even for children so young, her school fashioned junior mortarboards out of black cardboard and printed special certificates to mark the occasion.
The mini graduands even had a small stage upon which to stand as they received their laminated diplomas.
The use of academic paraphernalia to honour pre-school achievements had seemed a little over the top to me.
That was until I saw Amelia and her friends take it in turns to leap from the stage-end with unrestrained glee.
I watched them clutching their flowers and personalised documents with raw delight. Check your cynicism at the door, woman, because it is not welcome here.
This group, which had become so close during the year, really seemed to cherish their final minutes together. They hugged each other tightly and we, the parents, held onto the sight of them gathered for the last time.
To cap off this momentous day, the school’s art teacher came to collect some children to be part of a special project.
The school had been chosen to decorate one of the small street pianos to appear in the Melbourne arts precinct over the summer as part of the ‘Play Me, I’m Yours’ community art installation.
Did we want Amelia to come and put her handprint on the piano in black paint? You bet your sweet Steinways we did.
The teacher led our girl into the art room where a small upright piano stood front and centre. It had been painted with bright, vertical stripes of red, blue, green, yellow and orange. To complete the design, little hand prints were gradually being placed across the surface of the instrument.
Amelia’s palm was dipped in paint and she knelt down under the keys to carefully press it onto a section of blue stripe. I looked in fear at that black hand and her clean, yellow dress, but the teacher was like a magician. Now you see a paint-spattered hand, now you don’t.
The generous teacher then mentioned something to us about where the piano would be located in January but we were too caught up in the events of the morning to commit it to memory. It was enough that Amelia, who had come so far in a year, would be moving on from kindergarten to the big leagues of school.
Leaving her mark in indelible black paint seemed like the most apt way to end things.
Almost a month later, Amelia’s Dad and I were walking near the back of Melbourne’s Arts Centre. We had tickets to see a famous (and as it turns out not very funny) British comedian, so we were killing time in one of our favourite parts of the city. Yeah, that Jimmy Carr is a must see for anyone with a love of finely-crafted one-liners about disabilities and kids with special needs.
As we rounded a bend on the terrace I saw it: the stripy piano with its distinctive hand prints made by the students of the Furlong Park School for Deaf Children.
I couldn’t help myself, I jumped into the air and exclaimed loudly, giving my husband a start. It was the unmistakable sound of happiness. Of joy.
Because I’d forgotten all about that piano and Amelia’s palm print so carefully planted there. But seeing it out in public, seeing people playing it for the free enjoyment of others, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride.
The piano was decorated as a gift to the community and finding it by accident on that warm, summer evening felt like a gift to us too. No-one needed to know the identity of the little artist who’d given her right hand print for the sake of art.
But we did. The secret was ours to share and we couldn’t stop smiling. Well, at least until the ‘comedy’ show started.