"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Tradition



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

29 comments:

Rita said...

Beautiful post! :)

yaya said...

A small sweet reward for being a "nice" teacher! Those children sound so sweet and that 6yr. old young lady will go far if she can hold on to that confidence!

Linda Hoye said...

Oh Deb! This is so touching! I can't help but marvel that the children are not allowed to bring homemade cupcakes. How very sad.

DJan said...

How sweet! I think the reason for the cupcakes being store bought is that they are baked in an "approved" kitchen. Right? And I think it's quite a nice tradition. I wouldn't eat those cupcakes either, but the idea behind them is perfect.

Retired English Teacher said...

Things have changed since our day. No homemade cupcakes allowed is a sad rule in some ways.

I love this post. Elementary teachers have all the fun. By the time they get to us in high school these traditions are long lost.

#1Nana said...

Once in awhile there's a cake or cupcakes at the high school level and I ALWAYS eat my cupcake!

I do have to agree with the kids that "she nice!"

Julia said...

This makes me miss school. Nothing like having a six year old open his little hand and present you with a treat. (unwrapped, of course.

Just for the record "Her is nice!!" I miss you, a lot.

Sandi said...

Somehow when I saw the title, "Tradition" the last thing on my mind was cupcakes! But, I loved the post. It is a strange custom, when you think about it. Those cupcakes are so bad! I forgot, but will miss one of those celebrations tomorrow, as I'm taking a mental health day. Luckily, I have Pat, so I know the kids will have a fun day! And the birthday girl will be celebrated.

Thanks for your encouraging comments today. I had a long chat with Shari this afternoon, and that was so healing. She always calls on Chris' birthday.

I love you!

Deb Cushman said...

I, too, never refuse the cupcake -- as lumpy and smooshed as it sometimes is by the time it reaches me! There is usually such a huge smile attached, brought forth by the act of sharing.

Julia said...

Pat is the best. Have a healing mental health day, Sandi

Niki said...

such a sweet post:)

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Iimagine I would think you were "nice" also. Lovely tale for me to read first thing this morning - before I go off to the "sub teacher" world.

Leslie at SugarAndSpiceADK. said...

"I told you her is nice"--that is the cutest thing I've ever heard! Thank you for the classroom memories, Deb--you are one lucky and nice woman!

Dee Ready said...

Dear Deb,
This loving story, despite that sad note of not being allowed to bring homemade cupcakes, must resonate with everyone who's ever taught.

I so appreciated the following lines: "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."

We do so need to hold everyone, but especially children, in "all the light" we "can bring to bear." Such a profound gift to all those whose lives you touch, Deb.

Peace.

Desiree said...

A beautiful post, Deb!

kario said...

So lovely! What a great perspective on this strange tradition you have. Thanks for sharing.

Barb said...

Sometimes we think these minor positive interactions don't matter, but I believe they truly do. As the good flows from your heart to these children, both you and they are enriched. I had no idea homemade is now forbidden. What a pity, though I know with food allergies and worry about ingredients, schools try to take the "safe" approach. I used to bake bread creatures with my reading kids - I'd bring them home to my own oven and take them back the next day. I'd also give lots of hugs, which I think is strongly discouraged now.

Pam said...

Lovely post Deb.

deborahjbarker said...

Just lovely. Store bought in preference to home made - how times change eh? We trust so little these days. Lovely to think that tradition lives on despite these small adjustments to how we view things though. What a delightful post!

Jessica Nelson said...

Oh my goodness, that little girl sounds adorable! :-)

Kathryn Magendie said...

This is lovely - oh and I wonder at the story of Igor! I can just see him there . . . and the relief he has when he finds out you are a wonderfully nice person *smiling*

Amber said...

Why only store cupcakes allowed? That is sorta a bummer to me.

But it isn't about the cupcakes, now, is it? ;)

oxox You IS nice!

:)

colbymarshall said...

Why aren't homemade ones allowed? Seems strange!

Stacy Crawford said...

It is a funny tradition now that you mention it that way...

too funny!

I'm glad he was right about you being nice.

Terri Tiffany said...

I love cupcakes and your picture made me so want one but mostly I loved your story and the tradition they do.I think it would be so great to be a teacher and have the impact you do on children.

Katie Gates said...

"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." What a wonderful line! A wonderful line in a beautiful post. Go, Cheyenne! (And, go Deb!)

Linda Myers said...

"Holding the child in the light." How lovely!

Kathryn Grace said...

What a lovely tradition at your school! I had to pause at the school requiring such an unhealthy treat for birthdays. I would so love to see schools setting examples for healthy alternatives. We have such a long way to go in that regard.

But your post is beautiful as always, takes me right there, and is utterly charming.

LauraX said...

a sweetness of childhood traditions!