I could tell from Maggie’s expression that she couldn’t see me among the hundreds of adults amassed before her. I was sitting way in the back for her third grade Special Person’s Day assembly. In retrospect, I would have been easier to spot had I been standing, but I didn’t think of it soon enough. At first, I had a hard time finding my eight-year-old grand-niece as well, but it turned out I was directly in front of her, 30 long yards away as she stood with her classmates on the stage at the front of the large hall, a red bandana atop her hair. I repeatedly waved, but she didn’t see me.
The singing began, patriotic songs in honor of Veterans' Day. Between the first and second songs I read Maggie’s lips as she whispered to Sam standing next to her, “I think my uncle is not here.”
She kept scanning the audience. She was going through the motions singing the songs, visibly sad thinking I wasn’t there. I ached to call out. I sat up as straight as I could, hoping she’d pick me out. And then, during the next to last song that thanked the special persons for coming to school today, she saw me. Her eyes twinkled. She smiled, and for the rest of the song her right sleeve brushed her eyes several times. I misted up as well, relieved, and I projected out that in a few years my grandson will experience similar days at school with his special persons, a different one every year.
Once you’ve given your commitment to attend, you can’t expect a child to understand why you didn’t make it to school that day, on time. Traffic, work, petty illness—nothing can get in your way. Nothing can top that moment of recognition when you lock eyes and the child knows you cared enough to be there, that he or she mattered more than anything else in your life.
Special Person’s Day started out many years ago as Grandparent’s Day. Someone figured out that death and distance precluded some children from having a loved one in attendance, so the event was changed to Special Person’s Day. At our children’s elementary school, Gilda pushed through the changeover while she was PTA president. She’d gotten the idea from my brother’s wife, Annette. Their children’s school in Rockville, Md., had made the transition.
I wasn’t the first Special Person Maggie had invited. Her father and our daughter Ellie secured the honor in prior years. But it’s good to know that, no matter what year, being a special person provides lasting enjoyment for both the child and the adult.