Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Grinch

Last Wednesday night was a big one for Hannah and Ellie. It was the night that their school's Christmas Production was taking place. Amazingly, it was indeed a Christmas production - "The Grinch who Stole Christmas".

The girls were so excited to be part of a production which incorporated dance, music, and acting into the evening. You don't even want to know how many times I heard the songs from "The Grinch" over the past many weeks. Enough times that I could sing them for memory for you right now if you asked me, but please don't ask.

Hannah decided to audition for a part as a narrator and was thrilled to get one. This meant that not only did she get the speaking lines, she got to be a part of the cast and as such was able to dance and perform in two extra numbers. There were after school and lunch-hour rehearsals and memorizing lines. All enjoyed tremendously.

Ellie's class performed one number as penguins. The pinnacle for Ellie was being the student selected to stomp her foot loudly at the end to signal the rest of her classmates to look up and take their bow. A role full of responsibility for sure! I mean if the stomps were late, or worse yet, didn't happen - everything could fall apart! She practiced her stomps and executed them with grace and perfection.

Hannah refused to tell me what her "costume" was so that I would be surprised. All she needed were her black jazz shoes and tights. Well va va va voom, when she came on stage she was decked out in a sparkly little animal print tunic and was sparkling with excitement from head to toe.

There is a lot of character in small schools. Everyone does their part to make something like this happen - parents, staff, and community members. At Linden Christian, the girl's school in Winnipeg, we were able to watch the girls in huge, amazing concerts. But because of the "machine" behind them, they were flawless - which is a good thing. However, I enjoy the grittiness of a small school production. It feels organic and real - kind of like the joy you feel when receiving a hand-made card from a child instead of a perfectly factory created one.

The performances were all fabulous - one foot stomping penguin and one narrator stood out in particular. There were a few moments during the night when I shed a few tears and belly laughed really loud. All of those moments made it for me and they all had one thing in common - kids with exceptional learning needs were front and center on the stage.

In the grade four class, there is a girl named K. who has significant cognitive issues and gets through her days with a lot of help. She is a huge part of the heart of the school. All of the kids know her and feel affection towards her. Her class was doing a song called "The Frosty Hand Jive", and K. was holding the letter "Y" of the word Frosty to hold up at just the right moment. There were a few things that struck me about K and her class. I loved that the dance teacher gave K. a part with responsibility. I loved to see how her classmates took her under their wings on stage and gently and respectfully got her where she was supposed to be. I loved the absolute look of pride and delight on K's face as she danced her heart out. I loved that she wasn't sitting on the sidelines watching. It was the highlight of my night.

If you've read our blog before, you know about Nikki and what a significant part of Ellie's class she is. She was smiling from ear to ear and dancing alongside all of her friends as well. It was perfect. In fact, after the show, Ellie's first comment to me was, "Did you see Nikki? Wasn't she cute?" There is such a sense of nurture and love in that class.

The best part of the night for me was watching A. - a boy in the grade 6/7 class. A also has cognitive learning issues. But those issues meant nothing to him on Wednesday night. He sang louder, smiled bigger, and danced harder than anyone else on stage. And when I say sang louder, I mean louder. Really loud. Not usually with the correct pitch, but what he lacked in musicality he made up for in volume. And it was awesome.

What I've come to love so much about the girl's school is that there is a place for everyone.

How many of those kids that night would never have a chance to take dance lessons at a studio, wear a great costume, have the spotlight shine on their face, be on stage? Maybe it's a learning issue, a financial situation, a language barrier, or parents that just can't. But for that night, they were the ones on stage singing and dancing. Status meant nothing. And the stage was open for all.

A parent told me the next day that she'd been speaking to the school custodian, Jeff over the lunch hour. He mentioned that he and most of the staff members had been at the school until one o'clock in the morning cleaning up and preparing for the next day of learning. He said, "I do it because I love those kids". They know they are loved by their custodian. He knows them by name and was cheering and clapping with everyone else on the night of their show.

What a school. What a community. I'm thankful that this is where my girls have their place.