Yesterday I was permitted to attend Maribeth’s Valentine’s Day celebration after being banned from field trips and school parties since the end of kindergarten, when she developed a Costanzian anxiety about her worlds colliding (as George says, “It’s just common sense; anybody knows: You gotta keep your worlds apart!”). Too lazy to research whether this was “normal” or “healthy” (because not much of what we do around here is), I hoped it was a sign of her growing independence (and let’s be honest: I enjoy an uninterrupted school day to myself). But when I asked whether it would be OK if I came to her Valentine’s party, she thoughtfully considered my plea and finally acquiesced because she wanted me to see her friend Piggie (whose antics she constantly regales us with amidst giggling fits; her favorite is when he says, “Once-upon-a-time-lived-happily-ever-after” and then smacks himself in the face) in action. I guess this is the first-grade equivalent of bringing a suitor home to meet the parents, though instead of coaching him on manners, she asked him to “do something funny for my mom,” to which Piggie reportedly yelled “NO!” — a droll response in Maribeth’s adoring eyes.
So it was that she was actually anticipating my attending the party, but the night before, she became deeply concerned that I would not be able to find her, as she had recently been moved to another table AND had cashed in her Lion Loot (a rewards program similar to Schrute Bucks) for an opportunity to be Teacher for the Day. With wide-eyed seriousness, she explained, “I don’t know if I’ll still be sitting at Mrs. C’s desk when the party starts or not. I’ll work that out with her in the morning. So if you come in and don’t see me, look for a girl with short hair. That’s Cora, and I sit right next to her.” I tried to reassure her that I got it, but the next morning she was still worried about my ability to locate her and reiterated her instructions to look for her short-haired classmate. “So I should NOT come in and scream, ‘WHERE IS MY DAUGHTER???’” I asked. “No,” she replied. “Then you would owe a piece of Lion Loot.”
Lion Loot is just one of many perks that make first grade magical. In addition to being able to cash in Loot for such coveted rewards as Stinky Feet Day (when one gets to walk around barefoot), Fluffy Friend Day (which Maribeth is observing today by bringing her stuffed Peppa Pig to school — “I’m going to tell Piggie, ‘I’ve got a girl piggie, Piggie!’ HAHAHAHAHAHA!”), eating lunch with the teacher (poor Mrs. C: That one gets cashed in A LOT), extra recess for the whole class, etc., students who are Classroom Assistants (and of course, Maribeth is one) get to demand Lion Loot from peers who are not making good choices. I often marvel that Maribeth feels comfortable being an enforcer and can only assume that at this age the assistants are too untainted to turn the system into an extortion racket and the bad-choice-making Loot-losers are not yet hardened enough to seek retribution for being busted. Then there are the Jolly Ranchers every Friday for students who have remembered to write their names on their “word work” all week; the Golden Shoe awarded to the class who best follows the rules in P.E.; randomly administered VIP Student honors that involve getting to use a bucket of special markers; Flashlight Friday, when Mrs. C supplies flashlights and students use them to read in the dark — so many creative little thrills.
The Valentine’s party ended up being full of simple pleasures. I had no trouble finding Maribeth, who was seated next to the short-haired Cora and concentrating on her bingo game. Once everyone had achieved a bingo and chosen a prize (bubbles! pencils!), students feasted on heart-shaped Little Debbies (which Maribeth found surprisingly delicious), grapes, strawberries, chocolate-covered-marshmallow kebobs, Chex mix and pretzels and then divided up to play games. The most fun was the relay in which the boys raced the girls to drop a conversation heart from a spoon into the cups at the finish line; when the second match was a tie, all participants jumped and cheered. The other game — blowing a cotton swab through a smoothie straw into a bucket — was a little less gleeful for the girls (including Maribeth) who suffered unwelcome breath blasts from the boys, three of whom required an intervention from Mrs. C to stop blowing on their neighbors. (All I could think was “GERMS.”) But it was all good because everybody got a helium-filled heart-shaped balloon, which Piggie repeatedly banged against his face. On the car ride home, when Maribeth asked, “What was your favorite thing that Piggie did?” and I responded, “I don’t know. What was yours?” her answer was, of course, the balloon hijinks. My future son-in-law is a real hoot.
So, assuming none of us contracted norovirus, the Valentine’s party was a roaring success. And knowing it was the last party of first grade makes me a little wistful. I feel like this year has been a peak. Maribeth has a wonderful teacher and adores school (so much that she rather insultingly complains about having to be home on the weekends and wept when school was canceled for a snow day); she finds sheer joy in silly boys and Jolly Ranchers and addressing store-bought Valentines and “extra reading time!” (when I put her to bed 15 minutes early because my ears are worn out). Her worries are small and easily managed; her delights are enormous and easy to come by. Her innocence, her deep desire to be good and helpful, her humility and her self-confidence make my heart squeezy (as she would say) because I know they’ll soon be battered; the worries will grow; the delights will diminish. One day Piggie will seem smelly and obnoxious (as Kate assures me all of her male middle-school classmates are); school will be a pain — and so will I. Though she sees so much to look forward to (sleepovers! concerts! dances!), I ache to stop the clock (or at least slow it down), knowing that, all things considered, it doesn’t get better than this.