Slightly more than half the class is on the field. They've been smoothly and quickly divided into teams and are being coached and reffed by the mom who was asked by the kids to join us on this outing. Except for a couple of boys discussing video games on the sidelines, the rest of the kids not in the game are forming themselves into cheering squads. One for each team.
Usually any time I'm out in public with kids I'm on high alert. Twenty-plus kids and the world are often a dangerous and volatile combination. This afternoon, however, I'm as relaxed as I've ever been. I can see all my kids - have counted them from time to time just to reassure myself. They're all having fun and happy to stay in the bounds of my sight and the rules of the day. We have this time to celebrate a successful year and we need to celebrate together. Best Third Grade behavior is expected, even on an after school excursion to the park.
Because I know the mom has a good grip on the game, I allow my attention to wander leisurely among the kids on the sidelines. The boys are still deeply engaged in their conversation - I hear "levels" and "kills" and "No fair, I wish I had that game!" One group of girls has formed a surprisingly sophisticated cheering squad and is in the process of building a human pyramid with the mom's three-year-old on top. A brief concern about safety wafts through my brain, but I let it blow right on through. The pyramid is only three layers deep counting the baby and the second layer of kids, all two of them, have feet on the ground. They've managed to get a boy involved and are laughing so hard at his antics the pile keeps collapsing, which makes them laugh even harder.
My eye moves on and stops at a single girl, a wispy blonde sprite whose coordination has not yet caught up with her imagination. Her glitter jeans sparkle in the sunlight as she buzzes around trying desperately to get someone - anyone - to join her cheer squad. She's not willing to join the other group, can't coax anyone away from it, and is totally unsuccessful in her attempts to snare the video game boys. She comforts herself with a solo cheer complete with dance moves, and finding that not to be satisfactory, turns to the players in the game for potential recruitment.
She makes her way to the end of the field where her best friend stands watching the action which is clumped at the opposite goal. This child is all soft roundness and budding femininity. She is wearing a pink flowered, tiered sundress topped with a pink crocheted half-sweater tied at her midriff. Her headband and nail polish are both complimentary shades of pink. Her only concession to the active nature of the outing is the athletic shoes and socks that I'm pretty sure her mom made her put on earlier in the day.
Cheerleader Girl: Hey Jenny, wanna be on my squad? Jenny! Over here! Let's go cheer.
Cheerleader Girl: C'mon. Don't you want to cheer? Team one needs someone to cheer for them.
Jenny: What? What do you want?
Cheerleader Girl: Jenny, come on. Let's be cheerleaders. Team Two is going to win if Team One doesn't have anyone to cheer for them.
Jenny: I can't.
Cheerleader Girl: Why not?
Jenny: Because Tracy (the mom) told me to stand here.
Cheerleader Girl: Why?
Jenny: I don't know. I'm supposed to be a . . . I don't remember what it's called, but I have to be here. I can't leave my post.
Cheerleader Girl gives up and joins the other cheering squad who have no problem working her in to their complex routine. The soccer game heats up and moves to Jenny's end of the field. I'm amazed as I watch her mix it up fearlessly with boys who live and breathe soccer. Her expression never changes. She's serious, determined and unflappable. Her singular spirit and her girly-girl style and her spunkiness bring tears to my eyes.
I tuck this moment away - consciously - knowing that I will need to rely on this water-pure happiness to ease the inevitable fiery pain that will come as my fledglings leave the nest in the days to come.