I read to Zach's class this week. I read Angelina and the Princess. If you are not familiar with the Angelina series, that's ok because I am. Angelina is a mouse but also a ballerina. She is English, too. I know this fact because I have heard her voice on DVD. So I read the book to the first grade kiddos but I refrained from using an English accent, although it would have added to the reading.
In Angelina and the Princess, Angelina is too excited to sleep because she and her ballet classmates have been asked to dance for the Princess of Mouseland. Angelina wants to land a lead role in the performance so instead of counting sheep, she practices "far into the night."
So of course she's spent the next morning, headache and a fever, and her mother bans her from ballet school until she is well. But Angelina squeaks, I mean sneaks, out while her mother toils in the kitchen.
At this point I turn to the first graders and raise my eyebrows, "Uh oh, looks like Angelina has made a bad choice." They are big-eyed, they are mesmerized by the thickening plot.
Angelina arrives in time for the tryout but because she is sleep deprived, she botches her routine and is awarded a "smaller part." As in back-up dancer which I'm sure is not what the English would call them but I'm not English, I'm Southern. Big difference.
Angelina drags herself home to find her worried-to-death-yet-knitting mother waiting on her. She doesn't come down too hard on Angelina since Angelina is already sick with low self-esteem. "I danced so badly...I will never be a real ballerina."
The next day Angelina feels better but she's sad. "It's not fair!"
"Maybe not," her mother said gently, "but things don't always go our way. You can still do your best with whatever part you are given, and that will help the whole performance."
It struck me that I used over a thousand words last Thursday to say something very similar. Something like, "You do your best, not because someone else can't, but because you can." Guess the knitting mouse beat me to it. I glance at the kids. Are they hearing the truth in mother mouse's words?
Angelina heard it and scampered off to ballet school. Maybe she could still be a small part of the big performance. So she learns her back-up dancer part but conveniently learns the lead role too. You know, while watching the two lead mice rehearse. Because we all know at this point where this story is going and it is crucial that Angelina just happened to know the lead part as well as her own lesser part. I check with the first graders. I'm not sure they've figured this out yet.
It's the big day and of course one of the star mice tripped and sprained her ankle. Ballerinas are known for their clumsiness. Panic breaks out backstage. Who can do the part? Why Angelina can! Angelina is promoted and the injured mouse scores a plum seat next to the princess for the show.
After the performance the princess thanks Angelina for "saving the show." I close the book and the kids smile. It had all worked out so nicely for Angelina. What a happy ending.
Oh gee. Angelina's mom was right on target with that do your best for the greater good speech but then when Angelina got to do the lead part anyway, I'm afraid the message wasn't the same. How about a version of the story that shows Angelina in the back-up role, grateful she wasn't grounded for life by her mother for sneaking out like she did? How about if Angelina finds more joy in seeing her friend dance the lead part than if she were doing it herself? How about when Angelina says, "It's not fair," her mother replies, "Darling, the fair only comes once a year." Oh wait, that's my dad's line.
Ok I'm done. It's just a book. No need to scare a bunch of unsuspecting first graders with my rants. And we like Angelina, she's cute, she's fun, she's a dancing rodent. But am I the only one who sees the problem with promising kids that if they just do their best, everything will always turn out perfectly?
The moral of the story was lost on Zach. He stopped listening after a few pages. A pop-up book had him cornered. So I won't have to explain, today, how happy endings aren't a guarantee. But if Jake reads this story, which is unlikely (hello? tutu-clad mouse, not cool) I won't stop myself from explaining that sometimes you will do your best, try your hardest, invest your time and heart into something, care more than anyone else about the outcome and yet sometimes it won't work out. It won't seem fair. And it won't be. And then I'll remind him of big, bold God who knows better than even your own mother what role you play. He knows all about the hopes, dreams, heartaches and disappointments. He straightens it all out in the end. He's your fair.
What have you told your children about fair?