Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Tea Party

Let there be no mistake here; of the two of us, Audrey is by far the better quality human.

I have mentioned previously the wonder in which I hold the continued patience, perseverance and compassion that she brings to her job as a Special Needs Teaching Assistant in a school which is located well onto the wrong side of the tracks.  The stories she brings home about unacceptable behaviours, tragic circumstances and squandered opportunities are enough to bring a tear to a glass eye.  And I should clarify that a lot of the worst behaviours belong to the supposedly responsible adults, not the children in their care who range from kindergarten to grade 6.  It's not uncommon for one of Audrey's workplace anecdotes to end up discussing how much better off a child might be in the foster care system, or having been put up for adoption as infants.  It's hard to imagine going home to an environment where the best possible after-school scenario is being completely ignored until the next morning when you can escape back to your classes.

At any rate, there sometimes seems to be more opportunities to reach out to the young males in Audrey's grade 6 class, rather than the females.  Maybe this is because the boys are more likely to end up perceived as a threat to society after they are targeted by gangs, or because more of them seem to suffer from things like Oppositional Defiant Disorder which makes simple containment a major part of their everyday routine.  Regardless, sometime last fall Audrey got an idea in her head to host a tea party for the girls in her class, and to let them keep the teacups afterwards.

Audrey has collected fancy teacups for years, and it is one of the few really girly things she does.  She has a couple of dandies from her Oma, and a couple of others she has received as gifts in the last few years.  My favourite Christmas picture is one I took seconds after she realized her sister Betty had given her a cup she'd seen in an antique store in Rocky Mountain House.

At any rate, she brought the idea to the teacher, who thought it was great.  Audrey had a couple of teacups she could spare, but she not only wanted one for every girl who participated, but one additional one, so that even the last person to choose would still have a choice.  It's this degree of empathy and planning that I never would have considered until after I watched the last person choose.

She asked her colleagues in the church choir, many of whom are ladies of a certain age, if they had any teacups they could spare, and of course, some of them did.  She then went to the HomeSense store on 137th Avenue and asked if they had any extra boxes for the teacups, so that Audrey could get them to school, but more importantly, so her girls could get them home safely. After she explained what she was doing and why, they were only too glad to help, but with Christmas approaching, they forgot to arrange them by the next time she dropped in.

The staff were so penitent about this oversight, that when Audrey next returned, they had not only collected more than enough boxes, but two of them had gone to thrift stores collecting cups, and one even received one from her own Mom's collection.

Prior to the tea party, which was held just before the Christmas break, there was a little concern as to exactly how the girls would respond.  In addition to going to a school in - let's be charitable and call it a bleak part of town, a number of them face challenges at home, or bear the scars of decisions made before they were born, like Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.  Some of them are new Canadians who don't even have a preconceived notion as to what a tea party is.

The girls were told they were having Girls Club at noon that day, which meant it would be a special time with no boys allowed, but they were not told what they would be doing.  Audrey had baked some butterkoek (Dutch cake) and brownies, and had the tea ready when she unveiled the cups, and explained how a tea party works, and that they would get to keep the cup they picked as their Christmas present.

Every single girl was thrilled to participate, which is tremendous when you consider that some of them don't have a lot of opportunity to do 'girly' things, and many of them had never even played at having a tea party when they were younger.  Many of them live their lives untouched by delicacy, and for some, just expressing an appreciation for such things is enough to single them out as a target once out of view of their teachers.  In this case though, every girl was genuinely appreciative of this opportunity, as simple as it seems.

At one point during the proceedings, one of the girls asked Audrey and the teacher, "Are you guys tryin' to make us into young ladies or something?"

"Trying, yes," said the teacher, but even though this made most of them laugh, it didn't stop them from continuing to drink their tea, with their pinkies extended.

When everyone was finished, Audrey labeled all the boxes, took all the cups to the kitchen and washed them so the girls could take them home clean.  some of the other teachers and staff came by to admire the cups, and to express their admiration for the idea.

Two weeks ago, one of the girls was asked by her grandmother to come for a visit.  "Can I bring my teacup?" she asked, and of course she could, and of course they had a tea party as well.

Fancy teacups are delicate, and beautiful, and hard to protect from the rough and tumble world that surrounds them, and so are young ladies.  I hope they manage to keep their cups intact for a good long time, and perhaps collect a couple more along the way, or leave this first one out where others can see it and ask about it.  I hope they remember the Grade 6 Girls Club tea party for an even longer time, and never forget that everyone is entitled to a bit of fanciness in their lives once in a while.

Most of all, I hope Audrey never stops coming up with these ideas to make the kids in her school feel special.