Best Week Ever, Part 3

For the girls' year-end program, we arrived just after 5 PM and found that our seats were exactly front and center. Kindergarten privileges! We were seated with Juliette's friend Alaina and her parents. The silent auction was already in full swing, with roughly half again as many donations, at least, as last year. We estimated approximately 350 people in attendance.

After dinner, the kids took the stage for their performance. I knew they had been working on the songs for as many as three months, because they kept wanting to sing them for me. I asked that they wait so I could be surprised on the day. The only exception was that we were asked to make sure that the kindergartners knew their special song, which was a riff on "Start Spreading the News": "We want to be a part of it, first grade! First grade!" I had asked Juliette if she needed to practice, and she told me no. She has a fantastic memory so I never thought to have her work through the lyrics.

That sounds like the setup for some disastrous performance, but actually the exact opposite happened.

So Juliette was front and center onstage with Alaina, Caitlyn and Caroline, her buddies from the kindergarten class trip. All behind them on the bleachers sat the pre-K, preschool, and daycare 2- and 3-yos. The theme was space, which meant songs such as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" and "Mr. Sun," as well as a few new ones and poems from the kindergartners.

Juliette does not necessarily have a charismatic or natural stage presence, but she is a general when it comes to taking charge. Every song, every cue, every lyric--she was there first and loudest. The entire class followed her lead. Keven and I sat there in awe, and I struggled to keep my hands from shaking the video camera as I laughed. Her authority on stage was unmatched and it came to us as quite a surprise.

Her friend Alaina's behavior was also a surprise. She is generally a very outgoing, aggressive, fun-loving child who rivals Juliette in terms of leading the class. But she utterly, completely, entirely froze. After taking a spot next to Juliette, she didn't move and hardly changed expression for the next 20 minutes. This came as a shock, obviously, to her parents who sat at the same table with us. They had come with their video camera, knowing that their girl is outgoing and unafraid to sing in public. But this was textbook deer in the headlights.

When it came time for her to recite a poem, she didn't move. This could've have been incredibly awkward or even painful, had her fellow kindergartners behaved with less aplomb and tact. Juliette gently touched her on the arm and whispered to her. Caitlyn kept pointing to the microphone, and Caroline generally tried to ignore the situation, as if by not acknowledging it, the awkwardness would go away. But Alaina wasn't having any of it.

Mrs. Niles, the school director and MC, decided to move on to Juliette's poem. She was like a slightly more restrained Mary Catherine Gallagher, arms in the air at her chance to perform. Because she is so much taller than her fellow kindergartners, she had to squat to reach the microphone. Her diction, pacing and volume were amazing. Every word was perfectly enunciated, and she used the microphone well to project. I was speechless with admiration and laughter. Caitlyn and Caroline's poems were more breathy and embarrassed, and they couldn't get back to their spots in line quick enough.

When the time came for Alaina to take another line, Mrs. Mahant just held up the card for Juliette to read instead, knowing Alaina had quietly checked out. But when all of their performances were done and the kindergartners' names were announced, it was like the spell around her was broken. She walked off the stage when her name was called and returned to our table, seemingly unaffected by what had just taken place. It was an amazing example of a human being's singular response to stress.

Ilsa was on the bleachers with the younger children. As opposed to last year, when she pretty much zoned out and didn't seem to follow the course of the program, this year she was much more engaged and animated. The teachers must have instructed the children with regard to hand motions for certain songs, because Ilsa was doing them and no one else was. Only when she realized the futility of performing on her own did she stop. At the end of the show, she and the other five kindergartners for the 2009-10 school year remained on stage, and were specially recognized for that.

So I guess that means we'll be front and center again next year. It will be interesting to see how Ilsa reacts to her moment of possibly star-making/possibly paralyzing kindergarten performance fame.

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