Monday, February 15, 2010

Unexpected Graciousness

On Sunday evening, one of the Girl Scout troops at Winter Fun Camp threw a dance for all the older (5th grade and up) girls. There was an Oscars theme complete with red carpet, film-strip decorations, foil stars, and a dozen mini Academy Awards statues to give away. As the dance got underway and the 75 or so girls from 10 to maybe 16 started to bounce around the floor, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in entire troops, I was touched by the sense of innocence. The girls were dancing because they liked the music and were with their friends and were dressed in their prettiest dresses, not because they were trying to attract boys or impress anyone. It was sweet.

I was a little disappointed when they started handing out the awards. Every so often, one of the girls in the sponsoring troop would turn down the music and announce an award category: Best Attitude, Most Sparkly, Coolest Hair, etc. and then another girl from that troop would wade out into the crowd of hovering girls and escort the winner to the front to announce her name. Lots of old memories of sham popularity contests popped up and I hoped the girls’ sense of openness and fun wouldn’t be dampened by the introduction of a certain level of competition, no matter how frivolous.

As the evening progressed, I grew to be more impressed with the troop in charge. While, at first, it seemed only one or two troops of mostly older girls were supplying the award-winners, it became clear that it was my own discomfort and suspicion that had led me to the premature conclusion that the race was fixed. As more and more silly and fun categories were announced, a wide variety of girls, some in dresses, some in pajamas, one in a wig and a cowboy hat, some older, some younger, and even one leader were led to the microphone to announce their names as they accepted their awards.

I watched my daughter during this process. She stayed on the dance floor the whole evening, sometimes dancing with her friends, but most often alone. She was quiet and focused on the music, dancing with very small, but deliberate moves. Every time the music would stop for the next award, she would push forward with the surge of dancers clustering around the front table. I could tell, even from across the room, that she was tense with anticipation, hoping beyond hope that she might snag one of the golden plastic statuettes. But each time another girl was led to the microphone, she simply stepped back into her former place and resumed dancing with the music.

I joined her on the floor toward the end, spinning her around and offering her a dance partner, but she still seemed more intensely focused on doing her own thing, clearly lost in her head, not really looking at me. I’d only been out there with her for a song or two when the radio was turned down for the final three awards of the night. The last was, they said, the most important award. It was for “Best Dance Moves.” The announcer said they’d been watching the dance floor the whole night and the winner of this award had not stopped dancing except to eat. She was focused on the music and her dancing and deserved to be recognized for her participation. The presenting Scout wandered around the perimeter of the crowd and then plunged in with a hand extended for Eiledon.

At first, Eiledon didn’t get it. She looked at the other girl and said, “Me?” When the other girl nodded and took her hand, my daughter’s face just shone. She walked to the microphone and said her name, accepted her statue and everyone applauded. The dance was over. The crowd broke up. Eiledon wandered over to me in somewhat of a daze, a sleepy grin on her face. “Mama!” she said, “you always said I would win an Oscar!” I laughed: we both knew I said that to her when she was having a melodramatic melt-down over nothing. But here she stood, statue in hand, tired eyes, beaming.

I recalled a scene from the prom episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” in which her senior class gives Buffy a special award after all the other popularity-based awards have been distributed. The character of Giles, acting as a chaperone at the dance, says to her, “I never knew children, en masse, could be so gracious,” to which Buffy replies: “Sometimes people surprise you.” This was a surprise Eiledon is likely to remember for a long time.

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