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Every summer, my dance studio ran a program called summer dance camp where little three and four year old girls flocked in their specially picked dance outfits. It was my special duty to help a stressed-out dance teacher deal with these twenty or so hyper little girls. Miss Jamie was the teacher and has also been my teacher since I was their age. We watched in silent trepidation as the little girls filed in, running around and plastering their hands on the mirror.
“I cannot believe I agreed to do this,” I muttered to Jamie, eyeing the children as if they would attack at any moment.
“Well, you just have to help,” Jamie said, her voice laced with fatigue. “I have to teach them and lead the class.”
“Well, at least you get paid,” I said. “I am doing this out of the goodness of my heart.”
“Oh, yeah right,” Jamie said, snorting with laughter. “More like your mother forced you to do it.”
That was when the screaming started. This was the first time I ever met three-year-old Mackenzie, and it was not exactly a good first impression.
Bringing her in was her mother, dragging Mackenzie as she screamed and fought. Her mother led her into the room and ran out as fast as she could, shutting the door firmly behind her, something I knew both Jamie and I would have loved to do.
Mackenzie stood there, tears streaming down her face, staring at me with her big brown eyes. She was about three feet tall and looked like she had some Asian in her. Her black hair was pulled back into pigtails and though I usually despised children, I had to admit she was absolutely adorable. Then Jamie did something that changed my mind.
“Miss Schuyler, why don’t you be Mackenzie’s special assistant?” Jamie said in that false sweet tone she always used for the little girls. I gave her a death glare and walked over to Mackenzie, taking her hand in mine. She tapped my leg and I bent down to listen.
“Hi Miss Schuyler,” she said in the sweetest voice I ever heard. “What’s your name?”
I couldn’t help it: I laughed.
“My name is Miss Schuyler,” I said. “Mackenzie, what is your name?”
“My name is Mackenzie,” she said, grabbing hold of my hand again. “But my mommy calls me Mack. You can call me that if you want to.”
The tears had already stopped coming and I wiped the remainder of them off her face. The rest of the week passed in the same way: Mackenzie followed me around everywhere, like my own little shadow. She copied every move I made in class. When she got bored, she would dance in little circles around me, paying absolutely no attention to Jamie. She repeated things I said and even fell asleep in my lap during craft time. At first I didn’t know why.
“She adores you, honey,” my mom told me when I voiced my thoughts. “You are a big girl and she looks up to you.”
It was such a great feeling, to be loved by that little girl. After that summer dance camp, I didn’t see Mack again until September, when she came to sign up for regular dance classes. At first I was afraid she wouldn’t remember me. After all, she was only three. But she ran through the door into my arms screaming, “Miss Schuyler, I missed you!”
“I missed you too, Mack,” I said, hugging her close.
That year was amazing. Every Wednesday I would student teach Mack’s class and it would make my week. She would come in and run into my arms, giving me a big hug. During class, I would stand up front with the teacher and Mack would always stand right behind me, in line with the other little girls. But as soon as I turned away from her, she would move up inch by inch, until she was standing directly behind me. I would turn around and she would run back to her spot, both of us giggling. We both had great times in that class, even though we were goofing off most of the time.
The year after that, Mackenzie didn’t come back. She and her family moved far away and weren’t able to come anymore. I think about her all the time, how she changed me as a person. Before I met Mack, I hated children and saw them as a pain that had to be dealt with. But after Mack, I saw children differently. I saw them as little dancers who looked up to me, like Mackenzie had. Before, I had little patience with crying little girls, but now, I am the one who holds them. I teach dance everyday and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without her help.
Sometimes I think about the dance she did that year: she did L.O.V.E, and she was part of the “E” in the dance. I can picture her holding out her arms forming the “E” and how cute she was. But most of all I will remember when I was sitting with Mack in the lobby, waiting for her mom. Her mom pulled up and got out of the car. Mackenzie jumped off my lap and turned around to give me a hug. I picked her up and swung her around, unable to get enough of her high-pitched giggles. I put her down and gave her one last kiss on the cheek. She headed towards the door, turned back to me and said, “Bye Miss Schuyler, I love you.”
“I love you too, Mack.”