How do you make a school full of children between the ages of 5 and 8 years old go completely berserk?
Bring out a Justin Bieber impersonator at the end-of-the-year assembly on the last day of school.
The cafeteria/multi-purpose room had been cleared of all of its tables, and the pungent odor of disinfectant was thick in the air…the kind that reminds you of your own elementary school. The munchkins filed in, class by class (my daughter among them), and took their seats on the floor.
The second-grade singers were the first to take the stage…obviously proud to share sweet songs about a funny bird in a tree, and taking the high road, and, without fail at every school choral event everywhere, at least one song called Jubilate Deo.
Next, the music teacher further warmed up the squirmy crowd of kids with the Hand Jive and the Cupid Shuffle. So far, so good…a fun, yet fairly pedestrian, last-day assembly.
But when that same music teacher walked on stage with a large heart attached to her shirt that had the letters “JB” written on it in red marker, the crowd full of kids started whooping and screaming. She was followed by 10-12 other teachers, each wearing paper hearts that bore clearly-stated references to Bieber Fever, in all sorts of variations.
Then came the predictable, familiar opening keyboard riff to “Baby,” and the teachers broke into a choreographed dance number that had obviously required some effort to learn, much to the students’ delight.
All of a sudden, from stage right, a lone teenaged figure made his entrance, holding a microphone. He wore a gray, zippered sweatshirt with the hood pulled up over his head, aviator sunglasses, and jeans. He had longish, floppy hair. And he was crooning (er, lip-syncing) the song as he meandered through the group of dancing teachers. He didn’t look exactly like the Bieb. The hair was a bit dark. But he passed.
I have never in all my adult life heard a crowd of little kids shriek like I did in that moment. At first, I didn’t understand why they kept shrieking. They really like the song? They like seeing a Bieber impersonator? Shrieking is just…fun?
And then it hit me.
They really think it’s him.
Oh, dear. They really do. I looked over at my daughter, whose eyes were shining and whose mouth hung open in awe. And then, my 4-year-old son, who had come with me, came running over saying, “Mommy! It’s Justin Beaver!” It was then that I had to break the disappointing news to him, and his little face clouded over.
Meanwhile, the shrieking continued. It wasn’t letting up. The noise level kept rising. If it did, in fact, begin to dawn on the kids that it wasn’t really him, they still pretended that it was…because it was just that much fun. My first-grader later informed me that she was tricked for a while, but she became skeptical when she realized that his hair wasn’t exactly right.
Sweet little kids. Not yet saavy enough to spot the impostor from the outset. Hoping earnestly that he was the real thing. And then…making the best of it anyway, even after the unfortunate reality sank in.
I admire their little world. Their innocent hearts. The ease with which they accept what is right before them. The Bieber charade was all in fun, and it thrilled them.
But in that moment, it reminded me, a little soberly, that somewhere down the road, we adults have a responsibility to the little ones. A responsibility to clue them in to what’s real, and what’s not, when they are old enough to understand.
I don’t just mean Santa Claus.
The world where they are growing up is presenting them with a plate full of fakes. Fakes that are more difficult to discern than whether or not someone has authentic Bieber hair. They are being fed empty lines about what is important, what they need, how they should live, and what they should believe. Impostors. Ones that might even be fun to buy into for a little while.
But they need to know that nothing compares…nothing…to the real thing. Empty fakes are always going to be around. But the truth is far better.
The truth that will set them free.
I am praying…even now… that mine will be able to tell the difference.