Sunday, December 4, 2011
I sat at my desk, hoping to get two hours of work done in an hour of planning time. The room was blessedly still and I was in a groove correcting, planning, organizing. I barely heard the faint knocking, but looked up to see a pair of eyes focused intently on me through the thin rectangular window of my back door.
For a brief second I considered ignoring the face and the knocking, but experience told me that seldom works. So I waved a welcome to two very small children. First graders as it turned out, bearing cupcakes. The leader, a spunky red-head who told me her name was Cheyenne, extended the plastic grocery store cupcake holder in my direction.
"Do you want a cupcake?" she asked.
"Is it your birthday?" I replied. I've had this conversation a hundred times or more in my teaching career. I know my lines well by now.
"No. It's his," Cheyenne said, pointing to the solemn pale boy standing eyes-down behind her.
"Happy Birthday! What's your name?"
"His name is Igor." Clearly Cheyenne had her own script.
Igor looked up at the sound of his name, but didn't seem concerned that he wasn't being allowed to talk. He stood quietly as I selected a cupcake as pale as he was, except for the lime green sprinkles. His expression didn't change even the slightest as I lavished birthday happiness on him. Cheyenne was also not interested in my chitchat. She was on a mission.
They were in my room for kindergarten last year and wanted to know (Cheyenne did anyway) where their former teacher was. She would be the next recipient of a birthday cupcake. It dawned on me that my cupcake was a toll willingly paid for directions.
By then I was so intrigued by the six-year-old woman in charge, I didn't mind losing the desperately needed work time. I enjoyed her confidence as much as I wondered how much Igor understood what was going on. I stood and walked the two to the other door in my room, and pointed them in the right direction with clear instructions. As I turned back to my desk I heard her say to him, "I told you her nice!"
I spent the rest of that planning time pondering this weird elementary school birthday tradition. Kids bring cupcakes (store-bought—homemade is not allowed) to school to share with classmates for their birthdays. The birthday child and one chosen friend scoot around the school at some point with whatever is left over to share with teachers. It doesn't seem to matter whether they actually know the teacher or not.
Although I never eat the cupcakes, I never refuse them either. I've always loved birthdays particularly, and there's something about being even a small part of celebrating the lives of these incredible, still-forming beings that eases my heart. For the moments of our exchange when they get to see an adult happy for their existence and when I get to see potential in all its brightest glory, nothing else matters. And for the rest of the day as I work around the sticky cake with lardy frosting decorated in colors never found in nature I hold that child in all the light I can bring to bear.
Occasionally the cupcake ritual will give me two kids instead of one to celebrate.
Photo from blogs.dallasobserver.com