There were so many things to which we had to say “no” in the weeks after my 8 year old daughter, Sammi, had major cardiac surgery.
Soccer? Recess on the playground? Gym class? Wii games? No, far too much running and too many opportunities to get hit where her back was freshly stitched together.
We said no — had to say no — to almost everything she liked. It was heartbreaking. Still, there was one very wonderful, very life-affirming refuge for her: her third grade teacher, Andrea Macksood.
Ms. Macksood was a new teacher in Sammi’s school that year, a veteran of teaching the kind of two-way immersion in Spanish that Sammi and her classmates had been in for all their years of elementary school. When she came into their lives, I realized quickly that she would be the kind of teacher that Sammi — and we — would remember forever. Of course, she did all the things one would expect from an experienced teacher: great scaffolding of skills for a variety of learners, setting up expectations and softening when necessary, offering lots of strategies for math and reading, and all of the other strong academic pieces that were likely what got her hired. What added something really exceptional, though, was her deep love of folkloric dance.
Ms. Macksood brought so much of herself into that classroom that Sammi and her classmates came to know more than just their teacher. Because her mother, too, was a dancer, they came to know Ms. Macksood’s mother, who came in to measure them for the dance costumes she’d collected for years and to train them for their performances. Because Ms. Macksood’s parents watched her small children, Sammi and her classmates came to adopt those children as extra little siblings, snuggling and reading to them when they visited the classroom. The dance performances were brilliant, authentic, and well-planned, and the students looked forward to them as much as the parents did.
One of those performances was scheduled for Dia De Las Madres — Mother’s Day — just a week after Sammi returned to school.
Obviously, Sammi couldn’t do it. I assumed she wouldn’t do it and that, perhaps, I’d pull her out of school on the day of the performance so that she wouldn’t have to watch her classmates participate without her. I had braced myself for the tears and the disappointment. Less importantly to me at the time, I resigned myself to the realization that I wouldn’t be one of the mothers in the auditorium that day to receive a painted flowerpot and watch my child dance and sing on stage.
In actuality, though, Ms. Macksood was a few steps ahead of me. When Sammi returned from the surgery, she came home that first week and reported that there was a safe place in the dance for her, showing me the soft, gentle moves Ms. Macksood had taught her. She was given the job of announcing the name and reading a description of the dance before it was performed, and positioned in a safe spot to the far side of the stage to perform the special, less demanding version of the moves the other students were performing. Watching it, if you didn’t know what I did, you might think that, rather than being injured, Sammi was a featured performer.
Sammi’s teacher didn’t have to do that. She could have said that Sammi’s activity restrictions were more than what could be accommodated in this dance performance. She could have said that Sammi needed to sit this one out. I would have understood, and though Sammi would have been upset, Sammi would have understood too. Instead, there is a beautiful picture both in our photo album and in our hearts of Sammi, with all her classmates, in full costume, dancing gently and in bare feet on the stage of her elementary school, one day shy of a month after her surgery.
Because Andrea Macksood made it possible for us to say “yes,” my daughter was dancing. It was the best Mother’s Day gift I received that year. I will never forget that kindness she showed both of us — Sammi and me, just another mother and daughter feeling grateful for each other.