One of the the big stressors of the season is the Christmas Party. You may foolishly think that the month of December is full of Christmas parties, so the use of the definite article is misleading. Well, you would be wrong. There is but one Christmas Party when you are a teacher of the 6th grade.
Every year I stress about the party. My tutor graciously claims that I don’t seem stressed at all but calm, but she is too kind. Any fool knows that if I prattle on about the party and need constant affirmation about my decisions I am most likely a little worried.
Here is the extent of my responsibilities: pick a day, pick a time, pick an activity, plan the menu. I don’t actually do any of the grunt work. Easy peasy? NO! Did Eisenhower have the easiest job on D-Day? I think not. The crux of any party is the plan.
A little background. I am not the fun teacher. All of us claim to be the “not-fun” teacher, but they always cave leaving me holding the bag of “not-fun.” I don’t play any Christmas music in December, and our only decorations were a poinsettia and a tree I sketched on the chalkboard with the first line of the Robert Frost poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” I dread all the “fun” party activities every year. Secret Santa always goes awry when someone forgets to bring a gift. Or buys too nice of a gift. Or buys a horrible gift. White Elephant exchanges take forever, and someone inevitably doesn’t understand that it’s supposed to be funny and gets horribly disappointed with the gift they’re stuck with. In this my third year, I thought it wise to avoid these pitfalls.
So we invited our kindergarten reading buddies to our party, and created storybooks while eating goodies. I love 6th grade more than any other grade, but they tend to lose it during parties. Things get out of hand. Drinks spill. Desks tumble. Food becomes sculpture. But when they are with their kindergarten buddies…they age about 40 years. They treat their little five-year-old friends as if they were made of eggshells. Voices grow softer and there is a lot of nodding and shoulder-patting and all around shepherding. I love it always.
So our buddies came to our Christmas party. All around me I heard coos of “hey, little buddy. Do you want extra marshmallows in your hot chocolate?” or “I think you should try the cheese dip. It is soooo yummy” or “let me cut up your cupcake for you.” Yes, they tried to cut a cupcake into bite size pieces (which of course is the point of the cupcake). Anyways, the party was a success in that no tears were shed, I didn’t have to yell “hey,” and my kids acted like complete angels.
I don’t want to be too smug about the whole thing, but I think my students were unconsciously channeling Fred (Scrooge’s nephew from A Christmas Carol) in seeing Christmas as a “kind, forgiving, charitable pleasant time,” and they saw their buddies as “fellow-passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” I don’t want to project too much on them, since I only see them in a very specific setting every day, but on the whole they are pretty focused on themselves (aren’t we all). It was refreshing to see them freed from this self-centeredness to worry about if the buddies were enjoying themselves. I suppose this year, the true gift I gave my students was the gift of anxiety. By the time the party rolled around, we were all a little nervous about how the party would flow, and would the buddies eat chips and salsa (they did), and would we have enough time to craft magical Christmas storybooks for them (we didn’t). They got to partake in the responsibility of hosting a party, and I can’t think that this is a bad thing for them. It’s always good to sweat a little when thinking about the comfort and enjoyment of a guest.
And today I let them eat all the leftover chips, so God Bless Us, Every One.