Chapel Hill: Opinion

Carol Henderson: Student baby shower

“Are we having extra recess today?” a girl named Taylor asked, then quickly added, “I don’t think we should.”

“Don’t think we should?” Ms. Barnes looked hard at her student, as the girl’s blue eyes seemed to get bigger and bigger. She didn’t want extra recess? Taylor was a spunky kid who loved to play. Every class always wanted extra recess, especially now that the end of hideous March weather had broken and the day was glorious.

Ms. Barnes sensed something was up. She called to her fourth graders to gather and go inside, but they were already racing past her, scampering up the three flights of stairs to their classroom. Something was definitely up.

Moving slowly at 38 weeks pregnant, Ms. Barnes turned the corner into her room and was met by a chorus of “Surprise!” and a swarm of her students mobbing her in a group hug. The room was transformed. Cupcakes, ice cream, balloons, even a tricycle made out of diapers and baby blankets.

With the help of a few moms, Ms. Barnes fourth-grade students were throwing a baby shower for her.

During recess, the mothers had reorganized the classroom into several stations, each with baby-related activities. There was a baby-food-testing station, a baby bingo station, a diaper relay where the children could practice diapering dolls.

A mom led Ms. Barnes to the front of the room, Station One, and invited her to sit in a rocking chair, where she was grateful to rest her tired feet. A group of students began to read to her each one’s favorite baby board book.

According to plan, the group then moved on to the next station, where they sampled little spoonfuls of baby food and tried to guess the flavors, while a new group sat down with Ms. Barnes to read her their own babyhood favorites. Another station offered the chance to estimate the size of Ms. Barnes’ belly. The children cut lengths of yarn from a spool, guessing the circumference of Ms. Barnes’ tummy. Then a mom measured her actual belly, and the children compared their pieces of yarn the true size. Two girls tied, coming close to an accurate guess.

And so it went. The kids had created their own version of Ms. Barnes’ classroom, with babyhood as the theme.

I was telling a friend about this baby shower and he said, “What a great story. I wish news like this would be on the front page of the paper every now and then.”

And so, here it is.

Ms. Barnes is my daughter, Colette, and her baby is due tomorrow. Colette is a graduate of the UNC School of Education and has taught in the North Carolina public schools for the past five years, four of them as a fourth-grade teacher at Mills Park Elementary School in Cary.

We hear such discouraging news about education budget and staff cuts, egregiously low pay for teachers, ridiculous curriculum changes.

My daughter’s principal tells his teachers to focus on their students and what happens within their classroom walls, to try not to dwell on the politics of education and instead to nurture and teach.

It’s like a siege of terrible weather: all you can do is wait for it to clear and hope to see sunshine again.

Meanwhile a good teacher can still, as always, make a huge difference for so many kids.

As they made their way around the room all the kids stopped at a final station to write their personal wishes for Ms. Barnes’ baby boy. These they would make into a book that they would give her later.

I hope you find love inside.

I hope you grow up to play basketball.

I hope you have a family of your own one day.

The night after the shower Colette hand wrote thank-you notes to all her students, telling them how much she had enjoyed them during the year, with a personal wish for each.

Carol Henderson is a writer and writing teacher. You can contact her at