Monday, May 19, 2008

Dreams of My Children, Part 4

When the disc jockey puts the Beatles' version of "Twist and Shout" on the turntable, the fifth-graders go a little crazy. The girls' high-pitched squeals rise into the rafters like frightened birds, and they, all dressed in cotton dresses and satin ribbons, come up to where the grown-ups stand, pleading and whining. Like Sirens, they lure the teachers to the center of the gym, and laugh with delight as these figures of authority step to the rhythm, shake and grind to the beat.
All around the dance floor stand the parents. Some of them dance, too, but most just watch, laugh and applaud, and yawn and check their watches.

This is the night of the fifth-grade banquet. Every year Joe Walker School in Lagonda holds a covered-dish dinner and dance for its "graduates" before sending them off to middle school. Every year, moms and dads eat elbow to elbow at the kid-sized cafeteria tables, then listen to the efforts of the chorus and band. These kids, who have been playing their instruments for less than a year, make up for their lack of virtuosity with vigor and volume, blurting out "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" and "Yankee Doodle" to the ploddingly slow but steady beat of snare drums.
And when the band is done, and the speeches spoken and all possible thanks delivered, the tables are cleared and the dance begins.

Fifth-graders are difficult to contain. They are static electricity, charged electrons bouncing off walls and each other. They don't know how to dance but dance all the same, mostly girls with girls and boys making dance-like motions in a circle.
"Locomotion!" yells the DJ. The song seems to go on forever, with Little Eva wailing, "Now that you can do-oo-oo it, let's make a train now-ow-ow." The principal volunteers to be engineer, and everyone grabs a waist and joins the snaking line. When it's over, the grown-ups slip back toward the walls and doors, mopping their brows, fanning themselves with their programs.
"You ought to dance," one of the mothers, slightly out of breath, says to the parents in the corner drinking coffee. "Really, it makes the time go faster."

When a slow song plays, kids, still too young to be embarrassed by this, drag their mothers and fathers by the wrists to the middle of the room.

The teachers are old hands at this, year after year sending their pupils off in this manner, but they still seem surprised and delighted by it all. So does the principal. He's used to being despised and feared, but one of the girls, on a dare, no doubt, asks him to dance. Everyone is friends tonight. The moon is full, the night is cool, and nobody has homework.

The parents watch, absorbing this last scene of pure innocence, of youth uncorrupted. The music plays, the evening flies, and when it is over, the children are babies no more.

- June 1989

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Shame is most schools now move the children to middle school by fifth grade, so that we have lowered the age a year. Another great piece of writing that deserved to be reprinted.