Estonian children's culture is so saccharine it will make your belly ache, replete with songs about everything wholesome and good, sung with gusto in a pre-pubescent soprano.
Christmas is typically the epicenter of such youthful clamor, but September 1 is a close competitor, for on September 1, school officially begins, and that means that children must look smart, stand with a straight back, and sing until their parents' eyes grow dewy with nostalgia.
It's not so military actually, but I can see it now, the same way I can see the blue, black, and white flag flapping in the air, a gentle breeze blowing across the land, the sun warm, the blue heavens tantalizingly close, and the children singing it all along, singing about how happy they are to be in school and how much they adore their teachers. I still can't believe it, but it's true: Estonians actually like school.
Our neighborhood in Viljandi is run by wild children. These kids are like outlaws from the Wild West. Each one has got a nickname, a scar, an agenda. "Hey kid, want to hang out later?" one pint-sized gunslinger will say to the other. "Come by my house and knock at my window at night. I'll still be up." And they really do it, like Tom Sawyer, like Pippi Longstocking, like The Little Rascals. It's so ideal, you would almost believe, given the local architecture, that you had stepped through some porthole to the 19th century. Then one of their cellphones rings.
I asked the little rascals today though how their first day of school went. Usually, their posture is sluggish, their manners coarse. But mention school and they change automatically, almost uniformly correcting their posture and clicking their heels together. "Hästi!" the little outlaws smile, beaming from the question. They are excited. They are ecstatic. They have been waiting for it all summer. Oh kooli aeg, oh kooli aeg, millal Sina tuled? they sing like angels. Mul on valmis juba pliiatsid ja suled.
On the way to the opening ceremony at my daughter's school, I was informed that my t-shirt was not appropriate for such an event. "You sure you want to go looking like that?" my wife asked, an eyebrow arched to drive the point home. And so I changed into a sober-looking lightweight black sweater. "Much better." You've got to take September 1 seriously. It's an important day. The start of a new year, a new school year. The flags must be whipping in the wind. The lumepallisupp should be frothy. I stand at attention and think back to my own school years. The freshmen on LSD. How so-and-so got an abortion and whats-her-name killed herself . Then I try to push it all out of my mind. "Why do I always focus on the bad?" I ask myself as the children sing and smile. "I'm tired of being bad," my eyes finally grow dewy. "I want to be good."