I recently spent a balmy Friday evening at the Topanga Community Center, coaxed out of my solitude at home into the warm embrace of community. I was encouraged to join Deb Silbar’s birthday celebration and happily reunited with longtime friends and acquaintances made many years ago, when their children were small, and in my class.
The thing about Topanga is that these relationships began in my classroom when parents joined their children in class as volunteers, chaperoned field trips, ran the class booth at the Halloween Carnival, and cheered on their kids at the school’s annual Track and Field Day. They have solidified over the years through experiences both good and challenging.
The evening was special, not only because of the birthday celebration, but also, because of the music courtesy of Dan Ubick, wafting on the night breeze, encouraging bursts of dancing, and providing a soundtrack for the conversations between old friends. I learned about the paths my former students are taking on their way to adulthood, the middle school trials, the high school struggles and successes, and the colleges selected after tours and deliberations. The roads are as diverse as the students and their interests varied, but I feel so fortunate to get a glimpse into their lives.
The thing about Topanga is that it is a village that nurtures children beginning when they are infants and toddlers, providing experiences to stimulate so many interests ranging from music to nature walks to art experiences. Young children have an opportunity to attend a variety of early childhood centers including play-based schools, Montessori schools, outdoor schools, and schools offering academic preparedness. Children in Topanga are supported by caring adults working in the amazing county library, putting on Sunday concerts at the Theatricum and introducing them to the world of Shakespeare in that magical outdoor space.
This is a place filled with caring adults who are invested in the community as it is and working to preserve it for future generations. The adults in the community mentor the children through Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, beginning with five-year-olds and continuing through high school as is memorialized in a plaque hanging in the Post Office listing local Eagle Scouts. The adults who own and staff the local stores and restaurants are on a first-name basis with their community and the children grow up with all of these “friends.”
The thing about Topanga is that diversity of parenting styles serves to enrich the community, unite it under the banner of recognizing the individuality of each child and offering a variety of educational options and extracurricular activities while also offering shared spaces such as the Community Center children’s playground, the classes and camp for children at the Theatricum and Manzanita/CaliCamp that allow for a natural tolerance to develop. Topanga is a place where children feel welcomed and included.
The Topanga community enables parents to connect through Mommy and Me classes, preschools, elementary schools, homeschools, and extracurricular activities.
While this is not uncommon during the years of parenting, what is unique about Topanga is that these relationships last past childhood, past early adulthood and continue as these babies, the impetus for the friendships, begin to have their own babies.
I have been fortunate to witness these growing friendships and solid relationships. My role as a teacher at Topanga Elementary has allowed me to introduce children and parents during their first year at school and then nurture our classroom family relationships. When the children move on to a new classroom the following year, the friendships remain. I have witnessed this time and again with a warm feeling of satisfaction that I had even a tiny part in encouraging parents to find community, to arrange play dates and enjoy the parenting journey together.
Not all schools have this type of community and not all teachers are lucky enough to have close friendships with the parents of their students (and former students), but I have been so lucky. My youngest daughter played T-ball on a team at the Community Center when she was five and my daughters attended Halloween Carnivals and school plays when they were young. My oldest daughter had her Bat Mitzvah at The Community Center with Randy Just barbequing and Linda Hinrichs helping me get the Center for the event. My husband helped me set up my classroom every year and played drums in the Kummerspeck band when it was formed (loving every minute of playing with the amazing musicians and being part of that group). I will never forget the outpouring of kindness when my husband passed away suddenly. The memorial for him at the Community Center was like a giant Topanga hug for me and my family.
A community that comes together—to build a County library, clean and monitor the creek, teach children about their immediate impact on the environment, host both a music and film festival, provide first class emergency services and preparedness—is invested for the long term.
Topanga is this community, a community invested in preserving and remembering the past, taking advantage of and appreciating the present and thoughtfully preparing for the future.
The thing about Topanga is that when I enter it winding through the Canyon, exploring the State Parks, discovering wildlife and waterfalls, witnessing the cries of Hawks in the late afternoon, and the yips of coyotes at night, my soul exhales.
Our children are so fortunate to be a part of this amazing community. So are we.