The sky is spitting rain.
Afraid to be late on the second day of school, we show up far too early. A man who Brooke doesn’t recognize is standing at the door. She eyes him warily.
“Is he a fire fighter?” she asks.
“I don’t think so, Brooke,” I answer. “He doesn’t look like a fire fighter to me, but why don’t you ask him?”
She gets just a little too close, then points a long finger at him. “What are you?” she asks.
It takes him a moment. He looks at me. I purposefully offer no assistance.
“I’m an intern,” he says rather unhelpfully.
“An intern?” she asks.
“Yeah, I’m an intern here this year.”
I chime in. Someone’s got to push this along just a little. “So are you kind of like a teacher?” I ask.
“I am,” he says. “I’m a teaching intern.”
Brooke is still eyeing him suspiciously.
“Are you a fire fighter?” she asks.
I whisper to him. “She’s afraid of fire fighters at school. She’s just looking for a little reassurance.”
“I’m not a fire fighter,” he says.
And with that, she walks in the door.
He tells us that the kids have been asked to wait in the auditorium until first bell. He points the way in case we don’t know where it is.
Brooke marches in.
I don’t expect us to last long in here. There aren’t too many kids yet, but there will be. I foresee another conversation with Mr Not Firefighter Teaching Intern. But in the meantime, I take Brooke’s rain boots and swap them out for her flats. I shake out the soaked umbrella and stow it with her backpack against the wall. And then I watch.
Kids stream in. One little girl waves to me as she walks by, then turns with a big, open smile to Brooke. She then waves enthusiastically to Brooke, who awkwardly waves back. She didn’t wave until she was seven. We still don’t quite have that one down. But dude, they waved at each other!
Brooke wanders down the aisle and heads straight for the scrum of kids who have just come off a bus. I watch, wondering how she’s going to handle this — if perhaps she’s going to stop to talk to someone or look for a seat next to the waving girl. She does neither. She makes her way through the crowd and keeps going toward the stage. When she gets there, she climbs the steps and stands stock still on center stage.
I consider calling for her or running up and grabbing her, but I don’t. I know that if I do I’ll make a scene.
The rest happens in slow motion.
She clears her throat a la Periwinkle in Blue’s Clues and then begins to sing.
Gotta keep your head down, whoa oh. You can put your hair up, aye aye. You gotta keep your head down, whoa oh. You can put your hair up, aye aye …
She acts out each line, first tucking her chin into her chest, then gathering her hair up with her hand. No matter how many times I’ve told her the actual lyrics, this is her song and this is how she chooses to sing it.
I’m not sure what to do.
I decide to do nothing. But watch. She wraps up the song without incident.
The little girl who had smiled and waved claps.
Brooke curtsies, and thanks to Periwinkle says to the applauding crowd of one, “Oh please, you’re too kind.”
Before leaving the stage, she will do a dance. Then she will curtsy again. Then she will once again tell the crowd, none of whom seem to really notice that she’s up there anymore, that they are too kind.
After descending the stage, she immediately tells me that we need to walk. It’s gotten crowded now in the auditorium. And loud. It’s time to explain to Mr Not Firefighter Teaching Intern that we need to wander for a bit. As it turns out, he’s too busy telling other people where to go to even notice that we’re going rogue.
As we walk through the halls, I wonder if I’ve done the right thing letting her do what she did. I wonder if I should have wrangled her. If I should have explained that climbing up on stage and performing is unexpected in that situation.
I replay the movie in my head. I think of the kids. Of the one who smiled and clapped. Of the rest who barely seemed to notice – or who didn’t seem to care much either way if they did. Of the fact that these kids know her. And like her. That there will always be those who won’t get it. And that it’ll be largely up to me to make sure that she doesn’t care.
As we walk, I realize that the insecurity was mine. With each step forward I decide that neither my desire to fit in nor my fear of standing out should ever, EVER stop my girl from taking center stage. Because from the looks of it, that’s exactly where she belongs.