The Sparky costume lives in Janitorial Closet #2. It is an uncomfortably small room, but well organized and unsuspicious–like a telephone booth. It’s never easy to put on the 5-piece orca costume, which comes with a faux tummy attachment to make Sparky extra huggable, but it is even more challenging when three of your children are with you asking questions and trying to help. However, I thought it might bring some levity to an otherwise tumultuous morning of missing shoes, compromised lunch boxes and poor time management to include the children in my part time gig. It worked. Soon we were laughing and hugging in the snuggly little closet — even deciding on a theme song for Sparky’s entrance. Ki suggested Back in Black. Finally, we had achieved unity. Nothing can bring people together like mascots can, except maybe Field Day…
We opened the door and exited “the phone booth” with slow motion swagger like Resevoir Dogs –ACDC playing on my phone in the background, muffled by my fuzzy fin.
Our first encounter was with my daughter’s Kindergarten teacher. Her enthusiasm was palpable, appreciated and just what I needed to get really pumped up. Pictures were taken. High fives, “or fins” were exchanged. It was time to head outside…
Get ready kids, I thought. It’s Field Day–and Sparky came to play.
The Pasley kids went to their respective lines, proud of their mom and their school. Abel, a Pre K graduate, was my handler. We walked lockstep out onto the blacktop, where students mingled in haphazard lines awaiting the bell that would usher in Field Day fun.
The Kindergarteners were the first recipients of Sparky’s friendliness. They gently waved their little innocent hands and requested hugs from the lovable whale with subtle gestures, like outstretched arms, and doe eyed stares. I was in the zone. Clever dance steps, and strategic fin placement communicated school spirit and tenderness all at once.
Damn, it feels good to be a mascot.
As I moved beyond the lines of Kindergarteners, more and more children approached like a tide coming in. This wasn’t my first rodeo though. I had a handler. Sure he was less than four feet tall, and no where to be found, but, I knew he was out there somewhere. Perhaps even surveying the situation and seeking out an adult or two who could help out if things went off the rails.
I felt a dorsal fin pull here and there as the crowd grew, but knew that came with the territory. I am sure the Mariner Moose has had a child or two test his antlers. It wasn’t until, all the recipients of my mascot merriment were eye level, that I realized the demographic had changed. These were not students who wanted a little Field Day inspiration from their friendly neighborhood whale, these were older kids who were hell bent on discovering Sparky’s identity.
They begin to press their pre pubescent faces against the black screen that protected my personage. Worse yet, their morbid curiosity became a challenge to one another. I took up defensive position against a thin white pole and looked for an adult while the diabolical boys batted at my head shouting out clues to one another.
It’s a girl!!! They shouted as they caught a glimpse of my pony tail.
They pushed and pulled at my second skin, laughing maniacally. The heavy whale head bobbing up and down on my shoulders. I was drowning.
Sparky got decapitated.
My sweaty head, and tousled hair sat naked atop the fuzzy whale costume in the middle of the populated playground of stunned children. It was like an episode of Scooby Doo.
A demonic voice came out of me that had previously been reserved only for difficult parenting situations..
“HEY!!!!!!! UNBELIEVABLE BEHAVIOR!” I screamed, Orca head in hand.
My eyes began to fill with tears as I looked around the school yard at all the the horrified faces. My cover was blown. Worse yet, I had broken the only hard and fast rule of mascotting (outside the handler height requirement) –never let them see you cry.
I placed the shamed whale head back over my own and walked toward Janitorial Closet #2, leaving in my wake a viral tale that is sure to live in elementary school lore forever.
Where were you when Sparky lost his head? They’ll say.
God knows I will remember where I was…
*Thank you to Ms. H., Kindergarten Teacher of the Year, who let me walk around her empty classroom in a headless killer whale costume venting after the incident. I am sure the simultaneous laughing and crying was a little unnerving. Thanks for the “We Love Sparky” chant too. It restored my faith in humanity, and made my retirement less traumatizing.
**Please leave comments that detail what you would have said when your head came off. I am pretty disappointed in my lack of creativity in that moment.
Photos taken by CK Hernandez: Sparky’s 2016 Handler