Alice was a peculiar little girl. She loved playing dress up, hiding from people only to startle them, and making up stories in her head. On the playground at school, she made up stories and acted them all out…by herself. Or she would pretend to be on stage in front of an imaginary audience. She didn’t fit in particularly well as the other children thought her to be, well, a bit strange.
It is hard to know if Alice knew how others viewed her. She was just busy being Alice. Some days she felt like a movie star and other days, she was just a regular eight year old second grade girl at Fartham Elementary School. She liked being different people on different days. Some days, in her imagination, she was a dramatic movie star. Other days she was a doctor, a tow truck driver, a fighter pilot or a ballerina. Who needed to choose?
One day Alice decided she wanted to be a girly girl and dress like some of the pop singers she watched on TV. Big hair, lots of bright clothes and jewelry. And makeup. Oh, how Alice loved makeup. Unfortunately her mom did not share her point of view on this subject. She had such archaic notions about matters of the world.
“You are not leaving the house looking like that” her mother said emphatically. Alice stomped off to her room to change. “No slamming of doors, young lady!” Reluctantly, Alice changed into regular school clothes and removed the fabulous bracelets and combed her hair into a respectable pony tail, then washed her face. “I guess now I am acceptable” she mumbled while walking back to the kitchen to get her lunch and backpack.
The next day Alice decided she wasn’t going to let her mother be her wardrobe police. She was after all, fully capable of making this decision herself. But, since mom had to drive her to school she decided to be stealth.
As she packed her backpack, she carefully buried her favorite hair bows and bands, a few bracelets, a little tube of lipstick that could double as blush, and the loudest pair of clip on earrings. “At last, I can be me for all the world!” thought Alice as she bounced down the stairs and into the car.
Once at school she went straight to the girl’s bathroom. The transformation was underway. Fluff the hair. Ponytail up high. Earrings. Bracelets. And finally…a little color on those pale cheeks. Voila!
Proudly and with steely determination, Alice walked out of the restroom and to her classroom. Head held high, with eyes laser focused on her destination, she did not hear the laughter or notice the finger pointing. She flicked her ponytail from side to side and continued her march.
Upon entry into the classroom, everything went completely silent. Even Mrs. Evans stopped and stared. Alice made her way to her seat and only then did she look around her. The expressions on her classmates faces said it all. She was expecting to be applauded. What she received cut her like a knife right through her heart.
Shortly one little giggle was released from somewhere in the center of the room. That began a thunderous tsunami of laughter and finger pointing. Alice sat, frozen and ashamed, fighting back the tears.
Mrs. Evans snapped back to the reality of the situation and raised her hand with the “quiet sign” and slowly the other children stopped laughing and talking. Total silence fell over the classroom. The tears that could not be contained any longer were silently rolling down Alice’s cheeks forming two small puddles on her desk.
Mrs. Evans motioned for Alice to come to her desk.
“Can you tell me about your outfit today?” She said gently.
“I….I….” that’s all Alice could get out under the circumstances. So Mrs. Evans led her out into the hall for a more private conversation.
“Now, slowly, tell me the story.”
Alice tried again, her voice a little more steady. “I just want to look like the singers I love so much. I thought I looked pretty.” Now the slow drip of tears turned into the sobs of an all out ugly cry. Mrs. Evans was prepared and produced a tissue for Alice and gently put her arm around her. “I have an idea” said Mrs. Evans. “You go to the bathroom and dry your eyes, but don’t take anything off. I will come get you in a minute.”
Unlike her triumphant march to class, Alice shuffled, head down back to the bathroom to do what Mrs. Evans asked her to do.
When Mrs. Evans returned, Alice was feeling slightly better and they walked together back down that long hallway. When they reached the class, something was strange. The light was off. They opened the door and stepped inside. Mrs. Evans flicked the light switch and room came to life.
Alice rubbed her eyes and blinked a couple of times to be sure she was seeing straight. Every single person in her class was wearing a costume. How did they do that all so fast? What is going on? So many thought raced through her head as she looked back and forth between Mrs. Evans and the class.
Alice recognized the outfits. Mrs. Evans had a closet filled with them as well as other items used to act out scenes from history. “Everyone went to the special closet and created their own look” said Mrs. Evans.
Mrs. Evans explained to Alice that she talked with the class and explained that how you dressed today made you feel happy. “But now, lets talk about true happiness.”
Alice sat down and Mrs. Evans continued.
“Wearing different clothes and costumes is fun, isn’t it?” Heads nodded. Smiles were exchanged. “Pretending to be someone you are not can be fun for a little while, but pretty soon it would be hard work to always have to think about what that other person would say or do.” She paused to let that soak in.
“Real happiness can only be found when we let the world see who we really are, not who we pretend to be.”
“Alice plays imaginary games on the playground while everyone else is climbing, jumping, or playing ball. That is who she really is and she shows that person to us everyday. It is really quite brave. Some people pretend to like things only because they want to be liked or accepted. That won’t really make them happy.” Everyone was silent, not sure what to do next.
Mrs. Evans continued, “Each person on earth is unique and has things they are really good at and other things they don’t do so well. As you grow up you will discover many things and what you love can change as you grow.”
“Everyone take out a piece of paper, a pencil and crayons. I want you to draw a picture of you doing something that you love to do and that you are really good at.” At first the room rustled with the sounds of supplies being gathered slowly giving way to the silence of hard work.
When everyone was finished Mrs. Evans called on each student to share their drawing and then she hung it up on the board. Soon the class noticed something amazing. Most everyone had drawn something different. A couple of people were good at sports or working with their hands to build stuff; still others were artists, cooks, helpers. There was even one person who was really good at math!
As the students studied the drawings Mrs. Evans concluded with this, “If everybody was good at the same things there are many jobs that would never get done. But because everyone is different we can all use what we are good at to help other people. It is better to let the world see us for who we really are than to try to be like someone else. That is when we are truly happy.”
With that, Mrs. Evans announced an early recess. Cheers erupted from all corners of the room and a line was quickly formed and off they went. Still wearing their costumes Mrs. Evans second grade class marched onto the playground as one big happy group. And where was Alice? She was starring in and directing a play with three other kids. Soon an audience formed and Alice was…being Alice.