The other day, one of my second grade students, Sally, invited me to her seventh birthday party.
Be Careful what you Wish For
She is young for this grade. Most of the other students are seven turning eight. She actually skipped first grade. And when you think about the pandemic online year she suffered through, it actually means that she started pre-K before the pandemic, got interrupted around spring break, did kindergarten mostly online last year, and skipped ahead to first grade since she is such a great reader and mathematician.
She invited everyone in the whole class, as kids are socially required to do at this age. Then, she approached my desk, and sheepishly slid an invitation towards me.
I responded with way more enthusiasm than is necessary. “SALLY,” I declared with a mischievous smile, “you can’t invite me just to be polite; if you give me this invitation, I am going to show up!” She giggled and went back to her desk.
The party was next Saturday at a dance studio. Everyone was supposed to wear their best princess tutu.
Ms. Lacrete has the Best Tutu. You should be Jealous.
I checked with the parents, of course, and made sure it was okay for me to come. Still, I was hesitant to come to a child’s birthday party and not bring a child. I figured I would show up, say hi to the birthday girl, make small talk with parents, and leave.
I was wrong.
When I arrived, the party was in full swing. A dance instructor was playing a clip of a song from a currently popular Disney movie, and showing the girls a few moves they should try while it was playing. About half of the girls I recognized as my students, and the other half were from other schools, knowing Sally from this dance studio.
Dance is a Different World
I was impressed and jealous at the ability of the instructor to hold the girls’ attention for so long and so well. There was no idle chatter, and everyone seemed to be eager to get the dance right. I was watching from an adjoining room to the dance hall, along with most of the parents. Drinking a hard seltzer and watching the class through a special one-way mirror, like in those interrogation scenes on cop shows. And I realized what a gift I was given that afternoon; I could see my students, the same students I see every day, in a completely different environment. Some of them acted like their usual selves, and some surprised me.
The Birthday Girl Can Dance!
The birthday girl, the shy girl who was quick to tears when something got hard in class, was towards the front of the room, executing splits, turns, and poses. She seemed to be having a grand old time! Until she fell on her knee, cried for a few moments while her mom comforted her and the class kept going, then jumped right back into the action with the next number.
Kelly… Cannot… As of Yet
Kelly, a particularly shy girl in my class, was standing off to the side. She half-attempted the spins and kicks that the instructor showed. And when the music started, she was clearly a beat behind everyone. Later in the party, she chose to sit out of the “freestyle” portion of the dance, awkwardly retreating to a wall. I talked to her mom for a while, who was admittedly worried about her daughter’s shy personality and insecurity about making friends. They had just moved to the state this school year. Her little girl enjoyed anime, scary stories, and drawing most of all. So she decided it might be a good idea to enroll her in an extracurricular drawing class.
Jamie Shows Another Side of Herself
Jamie surprised me most of all. See, Jamie is a girl who is “too smart for her own good.” She likes to enforce the rules in class, which leads her to get involved in everyone’s business. She calls out answers when she is supposed to raise her hand. Taps her pencil when it is quiet. And pushes her chair in with a bang that disrupts everyone.
But in dance class, she is nimble, coordinated, and attentive. She helped Sally up when she fell. And she clapped and cheered when it was someone else’s turn to do a solo move.
Dance… then Cake
I stayed for the duration of the party. I chatted with most of the adults. And near the end of the dance portion of the party, when all the parents were asked to join their kids on the dance floor, someone’s little brother grabbed my hand and accompanied me in. The girls in my class were thrilled to see me twirl in my floor-length tulle skirt. I even had a piece of cake after we sang happy birthday.
I left the party thinking, how do I get Sally to show the same resilience in class, when she gets a few math problems wrong, as she did getting up from her banged knee? How do I support Kelly, the girl who wanted to fit in, but knew this wasn’t her crowd? Most of all, how do I get Jamie to be as nimble, coordinated, and attentive in class?
Please, Parents, More of This!!!
Even without the answers, I say, parents: invite your child’s teacher to their birthday parties, dance competitions, soccer games, karate belt tests. And anything else you can think of. They can always say no thank you. But if they can attend, they might see something totally new and special about your child. Offer them a hard seltzer while they’re there.