Sweet Sixteen

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A few days before the end of the school year, one of my students brought me an invitation to her 16th birthday party.  Tonight, Justin, Robbie, and I put on our party clothes and made our way to the Elk Lodge in Lawrence.

Let me be the first to tell you that Rob was not thrilled about putting on his suit.  At all.  He was most angry about the new boots I bought him to go with the suit.  The new $44 boots that he refused to wear and are still sitting on his bedroom floor where they fell when I gave up the fight and put on his Elmo shoes.  I figured they were black and kind of went with the gray pants.  And, really, the big battle was that I wanted him in the suit.  But, I digress.

Robbie loved absolutely everything about the birthday party.  There were balloons in every corner, kids running in every direction, loud music pumping out of a speaker in front of our table, and food he’d never tasted before.  Oh, and did I mention the bowl of hard candy on the buffet?  It was a dream come true for him.

And he had a blast all night long.  Sure, it took him a few minutes to warm up and venture off my lap.  But after that?  He was on the dance floor or running around tables or chasing older boys or, much to Justin’s delight, being chased by the cute three-year-old from the next table.  That’s right; she was chasing him, arms out-stretched, trying to give him a big kiss.  And, much like his father, Robbie was completely oblivious to the adoration from this older woman.

Watching him run around and have the time of his life was an interesting experience for me.  What struck me as interesting is this: we were the only white people at the party, the only ones who didn’t speak Spanish.  But that doesn’t matter to kids.  Robbie had no idea that no one was speaking the same language as him; he just wanted to have fun.  So, he ran up to the group of kids, wiggled his way in, and the rest was history.  In fact, when Robbie took a break to come give us a hug (love that he does this, by the way, and am counting my blessings that he does because I know it won’t last), the older boy in the crowd came to bring him back to the fun.  No language needed.

From the moment we got there, we felt right at home.  Anderlisa’s parents both came over to speak with us, even though neither one spoke English well.  But they wanted us to know they were glad we came.  At one point, her dad brought over someone to translate because he wanted to make sure we didn’t need anything and for us to let him know if we did.  Her mom did the same thing during the meal.  It made me feel like our presence was really important to them.

I think that’s something we miss out on a lot when everyone speaks the same language.  We take for granted that people know we’re glad they’ve come or that they’ll ask if they need something.  Being a little out of my comfort zone every now and then lets me see what I’m lacking in my own approach to people, and tonight I learned that I need to be more gracious and accepting of people as they are.  So, let’s all join the party with the same care-free abandon that Robbie showed on the dance floor tonight.  After all, what could it hurt?  You just might get that cute boy or girl chasing after you, arms open wide.

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