One of the cool things about blazing through the jungle that is being the father of two boys under the age of 8 is you get to ride a lot of wild vines. This week's ride was Elliott's 1st grade play at Henry Clay Elementary School: Welcome to the Jungle.
I admit, I went to the play fully expecting to see something cute. And only cute. Let's face it, when more than a half dozen 1st graders gather together to perform anything involving a script or any sort of a plan in general, we write off the ensuing chaos as 1st graders being 1st graders. Only in declaring it cute can we explain our own participation in it.
This was different though. When the kids walked into the gymnasium in their costumes, all handmade by some crafty and caring moms, cute was already accomplished. The kids didn't have to recite or forget a single line. A funny thing happened, though. They did start reciting. And singing. Much of it on cue and in sticking to the script, their songs pleasantly close to in-tune.
When the play was over, I actually knew I had been part of a story. One of a ferocious lion named Maliki, who gets caught in a hunter's net and ultimately rescued by the unlikeliest of jungle creatures, a tiny mouse named Panya. The whole experience bonds the creatures of the jungle, who come to see Maliki in a less ferocious light. A story of conquering fears and making friends.
Personal bias left me most impressed with the elephant in the jungle, Tembo - better known in my jungle as Elliott Cartwright. When he was asked if he wanted a speaking part in the Christmas play at our church this past Christmas, Elliott screamed no. That was as close as he came to reciting a line in that play. Then came the recent spelling bee at his school when he had to compete against other kids in his school in front of a modest audience. I didn't get to see it, but he was apparently eye-watering nervous. So I was a bit shocked to discover he had taken on a speaking part in this play.
I have to express gratitude to his teacher, Ms. Hoggan. She played a part in strongly encouraging Elliott to take on the role of Tembo. Not because we asked her to, but because she saw the play as an opportunity to push him through a fear, to grow him as a person. Who really knows, but it's possible one day we'll look back on this experience as a turning or starting point for something we can't see today. Even if not, it is encouraging to know Elliott is in a school and classroom where a child isn't defined by how he does on a test today, but by the gifts and passions that can be shaped into a young person who will thrive tomorrow.
All I know is I love living in my jungle.
Photo by Angie Hoggan
Photo by Katie Cartwright