We were about one third of the way through the school year. Sixty days so far with A. Only 120 more to go! No, A had certainly not been the “easiest” student I had ever had. She was loud and brash and entered the room every morning with all the grace of a blonde, gawky hippopotamus.
“Good morning, Giffin,” she would shout across the room.
With that greeting I knew that today would be a good one. At least, we were off to a good start. If there were no greeting, no eye contact her PCA and I would brace ourselves for the inevitable onslaught of “No’s.” A wasn’t proficient in any of the twenty odd standards for language Arts and Math. But when she was in the “mood”, she was advanced in “No’s”.
“Good morning A. Would you please give me your book” I would ask ever so gingerly, able to predict what would come next.
“No.” A would shake her head slightly and look at me with all the patience of an exasperated teenager. Ms. S would try, “A grab your bag and it is time to head upstairs.”
Once again, look, head shake, gosh-you’re-so-dumb smile and, “No!”
And so our days would go. Some days were good, some days were dreadful, and most were in-between. A, Ms. S, and I had settled into a routine – sometimes comfortable but more often than not, not. It was late December. The air had grown cold. The leaves had fallen and the trees were now bare. What precious little time there was of daylight was often gray. The scenery outside belied the chaos going on inside the school. Students and teachers were eagerly awaiting the winter vacation. Nerves were stretched to just about the breaking point. Snippets of conversation floated around the building giving hope to those who were barely hanging on.
“Only three more days.”
“I am going to sleep until noon.”
“Yeah! No homework for a whole week!”
Yes, we were all a bit frazzled and tense, but we were hanging on. Today was the day of the winter concert assembly. Grade level by grade level we were called down to the gym. The students were excited at the change in routine, excited to be seeing siblings playing an instrument or singing in the chorus, excited to be out of the classroom. In short, they were EXCITED!! I however was thinking of the 25 narratives that still needed to be scored, the holiday cards that needed to be written, the gifts to be wrapped, and a hundred other items to be crossed off a list.
We filed into the gym and quickly took our places. We sat in front of the older grades so we could see, and behind the younger grades so they could see. Never mind that half the children were of extremely different heights and the other half would sit on their knees. As usual, I sat on a bench and positioned A on the floor right next to me.
“Yes A, I see your sister” I whispered as the older students began to file in.
“No A you can’t go see your sister now.”
“A, please sit on your bottom like the other students.”
Would this assembly never end? A was wound as tightly as a clock and we had two and a half more days to go. I just knew that I would never make it. First came the strings. Screech, scritch, scratch. Clap, clap. What a lovely rendition of Silent Night. Excuse me? Oh, it was Frosty the Snowman. So far so good with A but one could never tell. She tried over and over again to get her sister’s attention, waving frantically. A few more reminders, “, please sit down, the people behind you cannot see. Watch your hands, you hit So-and-So.”
Next was the orchestra. Could A make it to the end? Could I?
Finally, it was time for the chorus. A’s sister was in the chorus so I prepared for more waving, loud calling of her name, even standing up. A did not disappoint me and managed to stand up, call her sister’s name, and wave all in one motion.
“A you need to sit down so everyone can see and hear your sister sing.”
I don’t recall the first two or three songs. A though greeted each song with enthusiastic applause. The end of the concert had arrived. One more song, dismissal, and then quiet. The final song was immediately recognizable to all in the audience. Jingle Bells! A was no longer able to contain herself. But this time her outburst, instead of being negative, was pure joy. Her eight year old face lit up with the joy of a toddler seeing Christmas lights for the first time, or a young child hearing the familiar tinkle of the ice cream truck on the first warm spring evening. A was excited, smiling, unable to stay in her own skin.
Suddenly, I didn’t feel so stressed and tired. I found myself smiling at A. Such pure and innocent joy. It was at that moment that A gave me the first of many gifts. I was able to see, through her eyes, the eyes of a child, joy and hope. Joy and hope at the sight of a loved one, joy and hope at the familiar, much-loved song, joy and hope at life’s little pleasures. A. taught me much that year. The thing I remember most is her face when she heard “Jingle Bells.”