This year Prima’s classroom teacher invited parents in once every week to be a guest reader in their classroom, reading favorite books that tied into that week’s lesson.
Prima was pumped at the prospect of her mother as the guest reader. (Mr. Bailey had earlier in the year brought down the house with his reading of Shel Silverstein’s A Giraffe and a Half.) Luckily for me, the writer, and sometime poet, I was slated to drop in during the classes’ poetry unit.
The night before, Prima and I leafed through books of our favorite poets and poetry. We marked our selections with bright orange scraps of paper. A bit nervous, I wanted to make sure what I was reading was on the level of my third-grade audience. My worst fear was my reading would be dull, babyish or boring.
Being rather protective parents, Mr. Bailey and I disavow kids programs on channels other than PBS, Justin Beiber fever, and subtly sexualized, childhood-infringing crazes being pitched to girls not even near the tween years. So when it comes to being babyish or mature we’d always prefer to err on the young side. The world will infringe on our little bubble soon enough, I always say. Except in front of my Prima’s third grade class, where babyish could certainly be warped to embarrassing or be used as a tool to tease Prima for her intense fondness for Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman instead of The Hunger Games.
That morning, I was dressed and ready on Prima’s early bird schedule. I hung out in the classroom during announcements and morning work and then found myself getting a touch nervous. When it was my turn, I headed to the front of the classroom, books in tow.
My nervousness melted away, poem by poem. Jeff Foxworthy’s Dirt on My Shirt book of silly poems went over well. Shel Silverstein killed and a couple of longer pieces from a poetry text pleased. I was wrapping it up when Prima, usually rather demure, shouted out.
“Mom! Read that one!” she said eagerly pointing to the textbook.
I thought I knew which one she meant – a silly poem about a baby going up, up, up in the air (presumably in a parent’s arms) and then coming down. It was in the first chapter, which was titled, “Here Comes Baby.”
“Huh?” I demurred, playing dumb.
“Mom, that one,” she insisted, coming of her desk, and finding the marked page, jabbing a chubby finger at it and nodding, her big brown eyes aglow.
“Really?” I said, back against whiteboard, my nervousness returning, my palms sweat intensely. I looked around at the 8 and 9-year-olds in the classroom.
“Yes, MOM!” she said, exasperated and returned to her seat.
Twenty-five pairs of eyes bored into me.
“OK!” I said, probably a little too loud. “By request of Prima.”
“Look at Baby, Up, up up goes Baby,” I read, my animated voice scrolling through every tone, intonation and emphasis combination my brain could conjure in an attempt to somehow make the poem appropriately ironic or meta.
“Going up so high, Look, look, look at Baby,” I continued, “See my baby fly” Giggles. A few laughs.
Crap, I thought. I was right, they are laughing at my precious Prima! But one look at my audience showed good humored interest.
What? I clear my throat.
“Turn, turn, turn goes Baby. Spin my baby round.” More laughs.
“Down, down, down, goes Baby – right down to the ground.” Full-throated chortles of third-grade laughter greeted me. I looked up amazed, at Prima, who was sitting back in her chair, basking in the glow of the response she had knowingly created.
“That was funny!” someone said.
“Good one, Prima,” another child shouted out.
I was laughing, too, in relief, and in spite of all of my anxiety.
“Well, Prima,” I said, “You really know your audience.”
The teacher thanked me and even asked to borrow the poetry textbook.
As I left the class to its next subject, I felt elated, if not a bit stymied by this totally unanticipated turn of events.
The magic of parenting is about all of the things you can’t anticipate; mostly because you are so busy anticipating something else tragic or detrimental or silly. Its paybacks reside within that ephemeral place where you are protecting your child, best interests at heart, and they are simultaneously feeling confident and in control of their world and completely themselves. And, somehow, like a big gust of wind, all of that is all unfolding despite you.
But instead of stripping you of power, somehow it’s elating.
Those little slices of balanced bliss provide bewildering and glorious parenting highs. For me, the highs provide a sense that for all of my worry, my hours of preparation for the birthday party, or agonizing over the field trip or fretting through the play date, there is something bigger, grander in control, unfolding with ease. That Mr. Bailey and I, we might be on the right track, but that the track is just a track, grounded, human, and prone to error. But that what’s flying above us is what is making the magic happen.
Up, up, up…