Plum participated in the greatest of Thanksgiving traditions, the kindergarten program replete with paper bag costumes and turkey hats. A roomful of parents with phones on video mode sitting in chairs designed for much tinier posteriors, children anxiously ruffled and rattled as they waited for the teacher’s cue to begin. Each child looked out into the sea of faces, searching for mom, dad, their special person. Chef and I were invited by Mama to attend, we got in first, parking was a mess. Plum insisted we sit in the front row, I’m not sure how those coveted seats were still open. I assured him when Mama got there I would move. He looked puzzled then agreed I could move one row back. The sound of paper crinkling filled the air. Finally it was time to begin.
First up was the standard alphabet on a feather skit, each child had a part in the play, memorizing the story of the first Thanksgiving based on a letter. As it neared Plum’s turn we noticed the child next to him, lip quivering and eyes filling with tears. This child had yet to spot his mother. Plum began to pat his back, his knee, assure this child his mom would be there. Plum almost missed his cue because he was too busy comforting the other child. When he was called, he stood up loud and confident, stated his lines with the assurance of a 6 year old. Next up was his classmate who made it through without the tears falling. He hurried back to his place on the floor next to Plum, turned sideways, facing Plum instead of the audience and accepted solace from his friend. Soon his mom appeared, all was right in kindergarten land.
More songs followed, Plum sang with the corresponding moves, a delight to watch. The finale was each child holding a laminated drawing with the writing describing what they were thankful for, Plum’s said his mom and dad. His new dad. My heart rejoiced. Chef and I were not on the poster. I hugged Mama who had snuck in next to me, Chef graciously had moved to the back of the room. Not too long ago, that paper would have said grandpa and grandma. It would have showed an imbalance in Plum’s life. It would have hurt Mama, it would have indicated that we took precedence. Now Plum is secure in his home, we are grandparents while not fully in the traditional sense but getting closer, ever closer.
I considered this play, I loved hearing the songs in little voices. I was proud of my Plum, remembered how timid he was last year in pre-school during that version of this play. He has grown in so many ways, his security at home and all the years of our sacrifices to ensure stability bearing fruit. More though, I was so deeply touched by his compassion. He noticed hurting, he saw pain and naturally began to soothe. His empathy is uncanny, highly developed for one so young. He is that child who cares. Last night as we read books, I selected one called “The Invisible Boy” by Trudy Ludwig. It tells the story of a child ignored by the teacher and classmates, a child left behind, until a new boy joins the class. An act of caring by the invisible boy, reaching out to the new kid who is mocked by the class, creates a bridge that allows them both to be included. A beautiful story with haunting illustrations, this book never fails to elicit discussion. But last night, I used it to praise my Plum, to point out that he was an “includer,”a child who has a heart so big it takes over the room. I told him my favorite part of the play was him comforting his sad friend. I didn’t tell him how much I liked his poster, that is for older Plum.
Thanksgiving brings many opportunities to include, to set an extra place, pull up an extra chair, open our home to those who might be feeling lost or alone. I am thankful for teachers who put in the work, teaching songs that explore gratitude. I am thankful for opportunities to see children is paper bags. I am so very thankful for my Plum, who has survived and thrived and loves with his big heart. I pray I remember always the example set by my so very sweet Plum in kindergarten. If I miss my cue for the big show, I hope it is because I am patting someone’s back.