Birthdays in the Classroom

During elementary school, I remember my mom baking and frosting birthday cupcakes for me to share with my classmates. Not only was I eager to celebrate my special day with all my peers, but I knew my mom was, and still is, one of the best bakers, so I relished the idea of sharing a small taste of something I had the pleasure of receiving on a daily basis. Those days have long since passed.

Not only has the concept of baking and cooking meals at home fizzled out with the times for many families, policies at schools have changed, preventing any food products that aren’t pre-packaged from being shared amongst students. 

To be completely candid, the fact students are allowed to do anything birthday related in the classroom baffles me. First of all, there are students who aren’t allowed to eat a cupcake—even when they’re peanut-free; secondly, some children don’t celebrate birthdays in their households because of religious reasons; and, finally, the school year is only ten months with multiple week-long breaks along the way, therefore, numerous students won’t have an opportunity to stand underneath the birthday spotlight.

Until birthdays in schools as we know them vanish from existence—a matter of when, not if—it is unlikely that the most memorable birthday I’ve ever experienced will ever be outdone.

The day began with my fourth-grade class barreling through the door in the morning, and Henry (name changed to protect student’s identity) informed me that his mom would be bringing birthday cupcakes for the class around lunchtime. I could never have imagined the way my usual wondering, “Will there be enough for everybody?,” would be interpreted. 

Just as Henry said, his mom entered the classroom before lunch with paper grocery bags filled with cupcakes in hand. Trailing in the wake of Henry’s mom was his grandma, grandpa, uncle, aunt, and baby sister. Though it was unusual for so many people to drop off cupcakes, the kids were about to go to lunch, so I didn’t raise a stink about the caravan of distraction.

I led the class in the traditional singing of happy birthday—always a strange thing in a classroom setting because you want to promote kindness, yet the tune has so many offshoots that can lend itself to sounding insincere. With much of Henry’s family in the room, the students kept the song in its original form. Then, things got weird.

Henry went around the room with his mom passing out little cupcakes. When I describe them as little, I’m trying to paint a picture that they were the bite-size kind sold in a store’s bakery. Not that there’s a problem with serving the smallest cupcakes available, especially when the cost for a class set can drain your bank account. Even though most of the class would inhale their cupcake in one breath, Henry’s mom also gave everyone a decorative napkin, which made me question my original assumption about cost being an issue. 

Before eating and heading to lunch, Henry’s mom pulled out one more cupcake from a different bag; it was Henry’s, and it was gigantic. Picture this: a personal size pizza as a cupcake. The only reason this monstrosity would be described as a cupcake is because it had a paper wrapper around the bottom; otherwise, it was a small cake. The eyes of the other students bulged, and I tried to stifle my internal thoughts from making their way to the surface, though it was difficult to keep my head from cocking to the side and scrunching my face in utter confusion.

Regardless of how bizarre I perceived the situation, things swiveled to sweeter than any baked goods, as is generally the case in the classroom, when Henry told me on the way to the cafeteria, “This was the birthday party I’ve ever had!” 

Returning from lunch several bites away from finishing his “cupcake,” Henry crossed the classroom’s threshold with a smile still plastered on his face. It’s moments like these where I feel like I blew out all the candles and wished for the best career in the world. 

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